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Air medical memberships: Relics of the past

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You won’t hear this from most air medical companies, but air medical memberships are no longer necessary.

On New Year’s Day a federal law went into effect preventing air medical companies from hitting consumers with surprise balance bills, which is the practice of invoicing a patient for the difference between the plan’s reimbursement and the medical charges incurred.

Over the past four decades, fear of getting slammed with a $50,000 bill for air medical transportation has persuaded thousands of Americans with health insurance to purchase air medical memberships. Given the horror stories about balance billing readily available in the media and online, these concerns were not unfounded.

Thanks to enactment of the No Surprises Act, however, consumers with health insurance who receive air medical services are responsible only for their deductible, co-pay or coinsurance – just as they would be with any other healthcare service. This goes for all consumers with health insurance, no matter who their insurer is or if the consumer is out of their network: You cannot be sent a surprise balance bill, regardless of which air medical company transports you.

Since the debut of commercial air medical transportation in the early 1980s, air medical memberships have been sold to consumers as a hedge against balance billing. The new law eliminates the rationale air medical companies use to persuade consumers to buy a membership, yet this has not stopped some air medical companies from continuing to market memberships to consumers who have health insurance.

Let me repeat: Air medical memberships are no longer necessary.

At the forefront of change

Well before the No Surprises Act went into effect, Air Methods moved away from the membership model to one that better serves customers whose lives already have been thrown into chaos. We discontinued selling our Air Methods Advantage membership in April 2019 and reimbursed members who were Medicare beneficiaries. Soon after, we unveiled our “No Membership Required” initiative to allow patients to focus on recovery rather than having to navigate the insurance and billing process alone. 

The model we developed to better serve Air Methods customers centers around our patient advocacy program and an in-network strategy designed to help patients navigate the insurance process, a process that frequently leads customers to become confused and frustrated.

As part of the Air Methods Patient Advocacy Program, we set up a Patient & Family Center to provide customers with support and resources, including the ability to talk to a patient advocate. Members of the Air Methods Patient Advocacy team walk patients through the post-flight billing, claims and appeals processes. This goes a long way toward relieving stress on patients and their families.

By going in-network with a growing number of insurance providers, Air Methods prevents customers from receiving balance bills. In-network coverage offers consumers a discounted, out-of-pocket payment for qualified services, which varies depending on their plan’s benefits.

Debunked membership myths

There are a few other things consumers should know about air medical memberships before signing a contract:

  • Air medical companies do not self-dispatch. This means neither the patient nor the air medical company can control which air medical provider will be called to transport a patient.
  • When a person’s life is at stake, the air medical provider that is closest and is available will be dispatched to help you, even if you don’t have a membership but have one with another provider.
  • Above and beyond the No Surprises Act eliminating surprise billing, out-of-pocket costs for air medical transportation have fallen to less than $300, negating another potential talking point of air medical companies selling memberships.  
  • Air medical transport services now must be treated on an in-network basis without requirements for prior authorization.
  • Despite what some air medical companies might tell consumers, Medicare Part B & Medicaid beneficiaries are already protected against exorbitant air transportation costs. In fact, many state laws prohibit Medicaid beneficiaries from being offered memberships or accepted into membership programs.

Thanks to the new law, consumers no longer have live in dread of receiving what Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) Secretary Xavier Becerra has described as “eye-popping, bankruptcy-inducing medical bills.”

Air medical memberships have become a relic of the past. Nonetheless, some air medical companies will continue to pitch memberships to consumers through misleading and deceptive marketing language. States that still allow air medical memberships must take measures to protect consumers.