When accidents occur, and you experience serious trauma or need specialty care, rescue crews have split-seconds to decide how to save your life. Sometimes that means calling in an air ambulance, but at whose expense?
Insurance coverage is supposed to help accident victims after various types of vehicle accidents pay for the economic damages they have suffered. Thus, many read their insurance plan and interpreted it to mean that any emergency medical transportation is covered.
Although you usually had little to no choice over the service or provider - given the emergency nature of the transports - and don't always know if the air ambulance called is an in-network provider, you might be billed for charges that have potentially huge financial impacts.
Hospitals save patients' lives, and your insurance takes care of the costs beyond the deductible, except for that critical air ambulance ride. Unfortunately, the accident-related expenses insurers should cover each year rise up to millions of dollars, so it's no surprise when an insurance adjuster avoids paying for certain medical costs in order to reduce their expenses.
Getting Help with Air Ambulance Costs
The cost of an air ambulance flight can be a shock for people who think they are protected from crippling health care bills because they have insurance.
Sometimes, insurance companies refuse to pay for the ambulance flights because their own medical consultants say the patient did not need to be airlifted.
Occasionally, air ambulance companies request patients to sign away their rights to appeal to them in order to bill the insurance company.
When the patient's insurance covers part of the cost, the air ambulance company may bill the patient directly for the remaining balance, and even turn the patient over to a collection agency, which in turn will ruin the patient's credit.
However, some ambulance companies have been willing to provide patients with a time-payment plan until the balance was paid. They were willing to work with people to make whatever arrangements necessary to make it less of a burden.
Sometimes people end up not having to pay for their flights, but only after seeking legal advice or making repeated appeals or disputing the charges from the ambulance company or the charges not paid by the insurance company.
Every time they receive a bill, people can mail a dispute letter, certified, to both the ambulance company and the insurance company. If they receive calls from a collection company, they do not have to speak to anyone on the phone if they choose not to or they can let the collection company know the account is in the dispute process, and disregard any unethical threats.
Last but not least, people can check into filing bankruptcy to see if they can get out of the debt.
Air Ambulances Save Lives at High Costs
As one-third of all motor vehicle accidents involve important injuries, more than 2 million people are injured every year, and over 40.000 deaths are reported in various types of accidents. When car accidents happen, they usually cause types of injuries that require fast air transportation to the hospital in order to avoid the worst outcomes. What many don't know is that a five-minute flight intended to save your life may leave you paying for it for the rest of your life.
More than 500.000 car accident victims are flown to hospitals by medical airplanes or helicopters for severe injuries that resulted from car crashes. While the average travel distance is approximately 50 miles, the cost of the trip can vary from less than $10.000 to over $20.000 per flight.
Ground ambulances are considerably less expensive, with costs that don't exceed $2.000. However, air ambulances are only called when the medical team on the ground that evaluated the situation of the patient decides it is really necessary.
While the financial issue is not mentioned at the moment of the airlift, many accident victims recover and find out that they are left with a huge medical debt to pay. An insurance claim may cover the full cost of the trip or at least a part of the expenses, but this rarely happens. Only about 50% of the insurers pay the entire cost of air transportation. Some of them even pay an outrageous amount of $300 for medical bills of more than $10.000, leaving the rest on the patient's shoulders.
The Cost Breakdown
An air ambulance can respond much faster than a road ambulance, and the crew can treat and transport patients to a hospital in record time. It can save the lives of people with major trauma, particularly head or spinal injuries.
People also rely on medical flights when they don't have immediate access to advanced medical care and the hospital that could help them is hundreds of miles away.
A critically ill patient's priority is getting needed care as fast as possible during life-threatening emergencies.
One patient got a $56K bill for a 600-mile ride. Another was charged $25K for a 46-mile ride. Still, another found himself marooned at a hospital, where an out-of-network air ambulance took him without his consent.
These patients all needed air ambulances in emergencies and got slammed with surprise medical bills, out-of-network charges they did not expect.
Air ambulance providers don't turn away patients based on their ability to pay and might bill an insured patient for the difference between the price charged and the insurance payment when the ambulance company lacks an in-network contract with the insurer.
However, some patients believe that if they have to cover the cost, the air ambulance providers should have to disclose it upfront.
State laws passed over the years to protect consumers can regulate some aspects of air ambulance rides, but federal laws prevent states from limiting aviation rates, routes, and services. So, patients are left stuck with thousands of dollars in bills and with few options for recourse.
The cost of an air ambulance bill includes the base rate at liftoff, which can be more than $10K, with a surcharge of more than $100 per mile.
There's a lot that goes into the cost of each ambulance flight. Air ambulance providers must have sufficient staff and reasonable deployment to have air ambulances available to respond around the clock and in just a few minutes.
In essence, the significant cost is due to air ambulance companies using capable helicopters; very experienced and well-trained pilots on standby; EMTs and nurses with extra training, about five years in a high-volume emergency room; advanced and expensive airborne medical gear; costly night vision goggles for the pilot; and fuel. The price for an air ambulance helicopter can reach $4M. This helicopter is mostly on standby, ready to respond 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year and hence not utilized as well from an economic perspective as if it was flying all the time.
Some air ambulance services offer discounts to patients. But that doesn't always work, because patients can't always know who is coming to pick them up.
Air ambulances may also be incredibly expensive to insure. Some air ambulance companies remain out of insurance networks because they can't always reach in-network deals that allow them to stay profitable. In situations where in an area there may be only one or two insurance options, companies find it it's harder and harder to negotiate on a level playing field.
Factors such as adjusting prices to receive sufficient revenue from private health insurance to account for certain lower-paid transports and competition may play a role in air ambulance prices charged.
Recent Air Ambulance Costs
- - $69K for a 75-mile flight to a hospital in California.
- - $39K for a 42-mile flight to ICU in Kansas.
- - $2K for a 29-mile flight in Michigan.
- - $48K for being airlifted 38 miles, 15 min in Illinois.
- - $38K for 15 min ride of roughly 50 miles in Texas.
- - $33K for a 37-mile flight in Louisiana.
- - $10K for a ten-minute flight to a trauma center in California.
- - $79K for 1 hour and a 20-minute flight in Tennesse from a hospital that was in the patient's plan to a hospital that also was in the plan and both had med-flight helicopters. The helicopter that flew the patient was neither of the hospitals' helicopters and was not in the patient's insurance network.
- - $28K for being airlifted to one trauma center then airlifted to another trauma center in Pennsylvania.
- - $523K for an emergency air evacuation with a Learjet from St. Thomas, Virgin Islands, to Ft. Lauderdale, to Teterboro, New Jersey, to Baltimore. The cost was per nautical mile.
In light of these weaknesses in state and federal laws, consumers can file ambulance complaints to the Department of Transportation (DOT). DOT receives few air ambulance complaints, and officials report that consumers may not think of DOT as the place to complain. However, DOT has discretionary authority to investigate potentially unfair practices in air transportation, and they need additional information about the air ambulance industry.
Don't Let Miami Insurance Companies do Things Their Way
Dealing with insurance and medical expenses without the help of an injury lawyer on your side can be a bad decision for your personal injury claim. Insurers will always try to cut expenses and pay a lower amount of money than you are entitled to. When accident victims find themselves in this situation, they usually get overwhelmed by the complexity of an accident claim and end up accepting an unfair settlement offer even though they have suffered extensive and severe injuries. Our law allows individuals to file an injury claim after being involved in serious auto accidents, for example, bicycle accidents hit and run accidents, and rear-end accidents. You may be entitled to compensation after a negligent party was at fault for causing you a serious injury, for example, bodily injury, head injuries, or traumatic brain injuries. Sean M. Cleary, injury attorney, represents people injured in personal injury cases on a contingency fee basis. These fees range from 34%-40% and are paid from the total amount awarded.
Why You Should Contact a Lawyer When Your Medical Insurance Won't Cover the Cost of Your Airlift
Do not expect insurance companies to be fair. Their goal is to solve as many car accident cases as possible by paying as little as possible. If your medical insurance company doesn't want to cover the cost of your air transportation, it is recommended to have your car accident lawyer involved in the case early. Knowing when to contact an experienced attorney to evaluate your situation can be crucial in getting fair compensation from insurance companies.
Our knowledgeable and professional personal injury lawyer can help you with your car accident case and advise you on the possible options you have, depending on your situation. Sean M. Cleary has experience in Florida and Miami injury lawsuits and knows how to build a solid accident case.