What is an air ambulance?
When a ground ambulance can't reach a patient, or get there fast
enough, an air ambulance is called. Air ambulances are often equipped
with state-of-the-art medical equipment and staffed by paramedics,
emergency medical technicians and sometimes doctors and nurses.
Air ambulances most commonly transport patients with
traumatic injuries, pregnancy complications, heart attacks, strokes and
respiratory diseases. The Association of Air Medical Services estimates
that more than 550,000 patients in the U.S. use air ambulances each
year. However, using air ambulances is expensive and might not be
covered by the patient's health insurance policy.
How much does an air ambulance flight cost?
The average air ambulance trip is 52 miles and costs between $12,000 to
$25,000 per flight. The high price accounts for the initial aircraft
cost which can reach $6 million as well as medical equipment and
maintenance. Also factoring into the price is the cost of
round-the-clock availability for specially-qualified medical personnel
and pilots to take flight at a moment's notice.
Depending on the severity of the medical condition, the
number and type of medical staff on board can vary, further impacting
the flight price. If you undergo a medical emergency abroad, the cost
of medical evacuation back to the U.S. can reach six figures.
Why is it important to understand air ambulance
Time is critical in a major medical emergency. Patients are usually not
able to negotiate prices or refuse transport while requiring urgent
medical care. Refusing service is not an easy choice when trained
medical staff has determined an air ambulance is a medical necessity.
Many insurers will pay what they deem reasonable use of
an air ambulance; however, sometimes the air ambulance company and the
insurer disagree on the cost. Depending on circumstances, the remainder
of the bill—which could run in the thousands of
dollars—could be your responsibility.
Medicare may pay for air ambulance services if the
medical emergency requires immediate and rapid transportation that
ground transportation couldn't provide. In addition, Medicare may only
cover ambulance services to the nearest medical facility and won't
provide coverage for medical care outside the U.S.
What does air ambulance insurance cover?
Speak to your agent to find out what coverage your policy provides.
Typically air ambulance insurance will cover the medical care you
require during transportation such as oxygen or life support.
Sometimes, the flight price will include transportation to and from the
aircraft which is known as "bedside to bedside" service. The service
also often includes the cost for any family members or other passengers
to accompany the patient.
Be aware that you may only be covered if you are within
a certain number of miles from an airstrip or airport. Some policies
will only provide coverage for a certain type of aircraft based on the
type of medical emergency you experience.
What can you do to protect yourself?
The time to think about air ambulance coverage is before you or a
family member experience a medical emergency. Protect yourself by
finding out what air ambulance coverage you have by reading your health
insurance policy or contacting your agent. If you need additional
coverage, talk to your insurance company to see if you can purchase
extra air ambulance coverage.
If you can't get the coverage you need from your
insurer, you may need to look to other companies for coverage.
For more information, contact the Arkansas Insurance Department
Consumer Services Division
at (800) 852-5494 or (501) 371-2640.
Get smart about your insurance needs! More information
auto, home, life and health insurance options — as well as tips
for choosing the coverage that is right for you and your family —
is located on the NAIC Web site, www.InsureUonline.org.