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Air Ambulance Cost Guide

Note: This blog is an informational guide on the typical costs of an air ambulance, and what you should expect regarding transparency. This guide, in parts refers to helicopter services, which we do not provide. No information in this post should be considered typical of rates charged by Travel Care Air, as they vary based on the needs of every patient. Please request a quote and we will give you an estimated price based on your needs.

Many air ambulance companies are coming under fire in the media lately because of the high costs associated with the service. Most air ambulance transports are done by helicopter, assisting people in immediate need. Those people helped in those situations are often surprised by the high bill. Typically we don’t serve people in immediate need. Travel Care mainly helps people in non-immediate need of transport. This gives us an advantage because we are able to talk to you first to go over cost options.

However you may not always be as fortunate. If an air ambulance is the only option to save your life you may be surprised by a high bill. You also may not have the option of choosing how you reach the hospital, which is frustrating for many people who believe an air ambulance cost to be too high. Most medical responders and receiving facilities will determine how to transport you based on your immediate needs and the geography and weather in the location.

That lack of choice and a bill can lead to frustration for the patient once he or she has healed. Medical bills are never considered when someone is in need of care. Extreme cases of air ambulance gouging tend to make headlines. Some costs are high because of more factors than inflation alone. Factors like the amount that Medicare will reimburse, state laws regulating the air ambulance industry, insurance guidelines and other various factors will affect total cost. However the reality is most air ambulance companies offer affordable services, especially if you are in immediate need. Some companies offer membership services that will bring down costs, however many people don’t know they exist until the service is needed.

Cost Transparency In the Air Ambulance Industry:

A recent article in the New York Times raises certain questions about the air ambulance industry. The article notes how helpful an air ambulance can be in the time of crisis while focusing on the costs associated with the service. Unfortunately the article really only focuses on one particular company and uses their examples to blanket the entire air ambulance industry in a negative light.

The article in the New York Times focused mainly on helicopter air ambulance, which have seen a rise in numbers over the last two decades. But that doesn’t stop the reporter from painting some services as the industry standards. Since we started our air ambulance in the early 1980’s we have seen first hand the tremendous growth of the industry.

But as the industry has grown, payments by insurance companies have declined. Most of the reputable air ambulance companies are hoping for additional help from Congress. The Times article points to legislation being discussed that would increase Medicare payments for air ambulance services.

The reality of the air ambulance industry is most companies, including Travel Care, do not operate in the manner discussed in the Times article. When you research an air ambulance company, it can be overwhelming. There are so many options available that the search can seem never-ending. On the opposite side, you may be in an area that may seem like it is only served by one company. Our advice? Take the time if it’s available to research. Use the information in the Times article to learn to ask the right questions.

A reputable air ambulance company will be up front about costs. Get a clear idea on a quote. There are always circumstances that may affect your rate. Ask what may alter the costs beyond the quote. Just like any other health care industry, costs vary greatly depending on your needs, location, health and various circumstances. But a good company will give you a quote you can rely on.

You should also find out if you are talking to a real air ambulance company or a broker or private insurance company. Many of these companies have websites that look and feel like a real air ambulance website, however they are essentially middle-men who tack on additional costs.

In times of crisis it’s important to remain calm and not let anyone push anything on you that you don’t want. You can refuse a service if you don’t think it’s right for you. No one should force an air ambulance on anyone that doesn’t feel like they need it, especially if it makes sense to use ground transport in non-life threatening situations.

Will Insurance Cover My Air Ambulance?

When most people are considering health coverage an air ambulance may be the furthest thing from their mind. It, should, however be an important question to consider because the use of ambulances have become the primary way to transport an injured or sick patient to the hospital. Most people who are covered don’t think about the ambulance, but what changes, if anything, if the ambulance flies instead of drives you to the hospital, like the article mentioned above?

The people who may most need an air ambulance are those who travel frequently. If you travel frequently many people think that travel insurance will not cover the cost of an air ambulance, should you need it. If the insurance policy is from a reputable company it should cover air ambulance costs. Always play it safe and ask the representative that you meet with and read the terms and conditions. Some policies are as high as $1 million however it’s important to talk with someone who has traveled to find out how much coverage is really necessary. Usually a $100,000 medical evacuation policy should be enough coverage, depending on where you travel.

Air ambulances aren’t only necessary for the well-traveled. Even though air ambulance services continue to increase in popularity, in part because they have greatly improved the survival rate of patients, many insurance companies have not caught up to the growing trend. Some insurance companies haven’t increased the amount they will cover for ambulance services, leaving many to pay the majority of the air ambulance fees out of pocket. Because of this it is never a good idea to assume you’re covered.

Contact your insurance company to see what coverage you may already have. It’s possible even if you have coverage it may not be enough to offset the costs for domestic flights depending on staff and the distance you need to travel. Once you find out the basic information from your insurance company shop around. Talk with different companies about their rates so you can compare and find the best rate.

What About Medicare? Will it Help Me Pay My Air Ambulance Bill?

NOTE: Due to the current proposed laws, potential changes to Medicare may affect part of this guide. We will try to update as necessary.

If you are on Medicare understanding what is covered for air ambulances can be confusing. Depending on the situation and the type of Medicare will determine what, if any, coverage you will have for air ambulances. Navigating the Medicare air ambulances information can be time consuming but our guide will help you start the complicated process.

Medicare Part B covers air ambulances under certain emergency conditions. Air ambulances are covered if you are injured and require immediate ambulance transportation that can’t be provided by a ground ambulance. Examples of this situation is if you are in a remote area not easily accessed by ground, or if you are in a traffic accident and ground ambulances can’t make it through heavy traffic.

Typically Medicare Part B only covers air ambulances in times of immediate emergency. You may get some limited coverage in a few non-emergency situations. If air ambulances are your only option because another form of transportation could endanger your life, you would be covered. You’ll also have limited coverage if you need air ambulances to obtain treatment for an illness or for a diagnosis. You can also get a written note from a doctor that states that air ambulances are necessary for your health. The doctor’s note must be dated no earlier than 60 days prior to your trip.

One key to air ambulances and Medicare coverage is to remember that Medicare will only cover you to the nearest hospital or medical facility. One surprise for many people who use air ambulances is they don’t have a say in where they are transported to. If you want to be transported to a different medical care facility you will likely have to arrange for your own air ambulances.

Medicare will cover 80% of air ambulances in emergency situations, after your deductible. Costs and coverage for air ambulances and Medicare coverage can change. Medicare funding can be changed by Congress at different times during the year, and those changes could impact everything, including air ambulances. You should always contact a health care insurance professional to find out what air ambulances coverage are available to you.

If you are in a non-emergency situation air ambulance companies will provide you with an “Advance Beneficiary Notice of Non-coverage” (ABN) prior to your trip. Travel Care Air is based in South Carolina, which has special rules for multiple air ambulances. If you get non-emergency, medically necessary transportation three or more times in a 10 day period Medicare requires us to get prior authorization for a fourth trip within 30 days. This means you’ll know if you are covered and also applies in the states of New Jersey and Pennsylvania.

What to do When the Air Ambulance Bill Arrives:

Last year an article written by the World-Herald highlighted potential issues for people who need an air ambulance. Insurance is the number one concern for most people involved in air ambulance services.

Receiving a bill for an air ambulance can be a shock to people. An air ambulance flight can be costly, depending on many factors, and the wrong insurance could stick you with a large sum of the bill. It’s always important to remember that anything may happen. Having coverage for an air ambulance flight is not something many people think about, however with a little education you can avoid getting stuck with a large bill.

In the case of some mentioned in the World-Herald article, some people transported by an air ambulance may find that outside insurance will cover the trip if regular health insurance does not. Some air ambulance companies have contracts with certain insurance companies. If you are involved in a car accident and have car insurance, it is possible that your car insurance will cover an air ambulance trip to a hospital. Typically car insurance covers all ambulance needs. If you don’t have strong health insurance you should first talk with your car insurance company provider to find out what coverage are available to you.

The World-Herald article also covered a man who had to use an air ambulance and was stuck with the entire bill because the air ambulance company that was used in his rescue was out of his health insurance network. If you are in a serious accident you may not have time to choose the right air ambulance provider. Usually the paramedics will decide to call for air ambulances without regard for your insurance.

But most air ambulance companies will work with you to find a payment plan that is right for you, if you are stuck with the full amount of a bill. Also, you may qualify for special reductions in payments if you can prove you have financial hardships. Other air ambulance companies also offer advanced fees that will cover a certain amount of an air ambulance flight. Annual or monthly fees may be available to help in an emergency situation.

Need a quote? Contact us for a free quote, and we would be happy to assist you in your air ambulance needs.


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