Air Methods Blog 

 

  • Mercy Air Recognized for Efforts Transporting COVID-19 Patients in Imperial County, CA

    by Air Methods | Aug 03, 2020

    As the world continues to be rocked by the unprecedented circumstances of the COVID-19 pandemic, first responders across the country work tirelessly to coordinate care for people who need it most.

    Imperial County, a rural and impoverished region in Southern California with a population of about 180,000 people, has been a hotspot for COVID-19. The county has averaged 900 infections per 100,000 people in the last two weeks, compared with 371 in Los Angeles County. Imperial County also has the highest mortality rate in the state, averaging 28 deaths per 100,000 people. The rate in Los Angeles County is just over five deaths per 100,000 people; in California as a whole, the number is about 19 per 100,000.

    Because of the high numbers in Imperial County, local hospitals have been overwhelmed with incredibly sick patients. A lack of space and staff has meant many patients have required transport to hospitals outside the county that have available beds and clinicians. Mercy Air, a subsidiary of Air Methods, established a base in Imperial County to focus on serving residents and bridging the distance between patients and level of care needed. A team that primarily responds to car accidents and other emergencies near the border pivoted their focus to transport COVID-19 patients to hospitals all over the state. Since March, Mercy Air has taken more than 100 COVID-19 patients out of Imperial County for treatment.

    Mercy Air in the News

    Mercy Air’s dedication to helping the people of Imperial County has not gone unnoticed. In recent weeks, the Los Angeles Times, Imperial Valley Press, and Univision have featured the air medical team doing their part to provide care to COVID-19 patients. We are incredibly proud of the dedicated team at Mercy Air, as we are of our crews all over the country that are working hard to support their communities during this unprecedented healthcare crisis.  

  • Maintenance crews take every precaution during pandemic

    by Air Methods | Jul 27, 2020

    Our aircraft maintenance crews spend most of their time behind the scenes, making sure our air ambulances meet the standards required to transport patients. Without them, it would be impossible for our operations to function.

    During the COVID-19 pandemic, the unique job done by our amazing maintenance team requires unique precautions. Recognizing that their work environment can sometimes make social distancing more difficult, we have implemented processes that make it possible by limiting the number of technicians on each shift. And, of course, we ensure any and all personal protective equipment (PPE) is always available to them. We also require temperature checks daily as part of the screening process and require teammates to stay home at the first signs of illness, even if it is not believed to be related to COVID-19. 

    Aircraft maintenance personnel work in close quarters at indoor locations, which makes masks, coveralls, and face shields imperative. Air Methods’ bases are well-stocked with PPE as a part of overall mitigation, and we also disinfect our aircraft after every transport and require social distancing at all times. This protects our maintenance team, our flight crews and, of course, our patients. We currently have the most reliable protocols in place and continue to focus on keeping everyone at our bases safe during the pandemic.

    This is an unprecedented time. The entire world has been forced to pivot quickly and apply precautions that keep us all safe. Our aircraft maintenance crews are no different. We have adapted, and that has equipped us with the tools necessary to cope with similar crises should they occur in the future. We have incorporated those lessons into an updated Emergency Response Plan as well.

    We continue to collect data about the safest ways to function on our bases and in our aircraft, and are constantly evaluating an array of options to ensure we are always up to date. We must be proactive in analyzing and assessing technicians’ daily routines so that activities are seamless. We depend on our maintenance teams, and so do our patients.

  • Patient education, PPE critical as Americans delay care in droves

    by Air Methods | Jul 16, 2020

    Air Methods CEO JaeLynn Williams recently joined the Medical Group Management Association’s (MGMA’s) podcast to discuss the unyielding trend of patients delaying care amid the pandemic. According to a recent study by Kaiser Family Foundation, almost half of all Americans say they or someone they live with has delayed medical care due to the COVID-19 outbreak.

    As JaeLynn points out, many people have foregone or postponed critical healthcare needs due to fear of contracting COVID-19. Many patients who are most afraid of going to the doctor are those who need care most, such as those experiencing severe symptoms or pain.

    “What the data is starting to show is that people are still suffering from life-threatening conditions – they’re just avoiding the ER visits. Chest pains, drug symptoms, enflamed appendixes, gall bladders, they’re all staying home out of fear,” Williams said.

    As the U.S. heads into the fifth month of the pandemic with cases spiking across several states, we cannot yet see the light at the end of the tunnel. It’s critical that patients seek non-coronavirus care again to avoid a massive backlog of unmet healthcare needs post-pandemic, and worse, a steep decline in population health.

    JaeLynn continues, “It really does come down to patient education during this crisis to make sure that they understand that they should seek care, that it is safe to seek care and that healthcare providers are working diligently to invest and wear and take care of PPE and take care of our patients very safely.”

    Listen to the full podcast episode here.

  • One Hand Tied Behind Our Back

    by Air Methods | Jul 02, 2020

    This op-ed is from five New York medical directors for LifeNet New York

    New York currently does not allow air ambulances to carry and transfuse its own blood products. Recently, several medical directors from our LifeNet bases wrote an op-ed calling for the state legislature to change this law.

    We write as the medical directors of LifeNet of New York to bring attention to a key medical issue for emergency patients in New York, impacting patients for decades without being corrected. Our service provides emergency critical care to patients across the state at a moment's notice, an ICU-level care for the most critically ill and injured patients who require transport to tertiary or quaternary care facilities to treat their illness or injury. LifeNet of New York has been on the front lines of the COVID-19 health crisis, including transporting critical patients on ventilators from an overwhelmed facility in Queens to hospitals in Upstate New York and out of state, an endeavor documented in multiple news reports.

    While we are proud of the medical care provided by LifeNet of New York, we are writing today to ask the New York State Legislature to authorize our service to carry and transfuse our own blood products to our patients that need these therapies. Air Methods treats patients in 48 states across the United States and New York is currently the only state where regulations do not allow our clinical team to monitor, store, and transfuse blood products. We must be able to use every health resource we have to treat our patients, but the State of New York has tied one hand behind our back.

    When we are dispatched to transport a patient who requires a blood transfusion, LifeNet of New York's ­­­­nurses and paramedics cannot deliver that care. Instead, we must rely on the sending facility to have enough blood to transfuse the patient before transport, which is not often the case in the small rural hospitals to which we respond. Our service already has a national contract in place with the American Red Cross to carry two units of universal packed red blood cells on every helicopter and where available, plasma as well. This is more than some small rural hospitals in New York have in reserves at any given time, yet we are prohibited from using these resources in New York.

    Moreover, when we transport trauma patients from the scene of injury, we do not have our own blood and plasma to transfuse to these patients as they are bleeding to death. The only medical treatment that the State of New York will currently allow our flight nurses and paramedics to keep readily available to patients in hemorrhagic shock is salt water, either normal saline or lactated Ringers. These fluids are no substitute for blood products because they do not stop bleeding or carry oxygen. Instead, these fluids dilute the bloodstream, worsening patient outcomes.

    There is a tangible human cost to the outdated statutes in New York. Our flight nurses and paramedics chose their profession because they want to save lives, not watch patients bleed to death receiving salt water instead of blood products because their hands are tied by outdated state regulations. Across our state borders, LifeNet of New York's sister air medical programs are able to store and provide blood products as a readily available resource. We at LifeNet of New York ask that our state government gives New Yorkers the same chance for survival that New Jersey, Pennsylvania, Massachusetts, and Connecticut authorize for their residents.

    We would like to thank Senator Metzger for her leadership on this critical health issue for patients in New York, by sponsoring S. 8346. We ask the New York State Legislature and Governor Andrew Cuomo to support this common sense issue now and update the outdated state statutes that unnecessarily put New Yorkers at a disadvantage.

    ###

    Dr. David FE Stuhlmiller, MD FACEP FAEMS CMTE
    Physician Advisor and Medical Director
    LifeNet of New York
    (973) 879-9053
    David.Stuhlmiller@airmethods.com

    Dr. Stephen Hassett MD FACEP
    Associate Professor Emergency Medicine
    Albany Medical Center
    Physician Medical Director
    LifeNet of New York
    HassetS@amc.edu

    Dr. Beth Linkenheil, DO FACEP
    Chief of Emergency Medicine
    Director of Emergency Medical Services
    Guthrie Health System
    Physician Medical Director
    LifeNet of New York
    Elizabeth.Linkenheil@guthrie.org

    Dr. Luke Duncan, MD
    Associate Professor of Emergency Medicine
    Associate Professor of Surgical Critical Care
    Albany Medical Center
    Physician Medical Director
    LifeNet of New York
    DuncanL@amc.edu

    Dr. Maja Lundborg-Gray, MD, FAAEM, FACEP
    Physician Medical Director
    LifeNet of New York
    Fort Drum, Potsdam, Seneca Falls, Watertown bases

  • Florida must protect air medical services

    by Air Methods | Jun 26, 2020

    Air medical services have always been crucial to providing prehospital emergency care to patients in dire need. During this unprecedented pandemic, these transports are even more critical.

    Florida is one of many states currently seeing a spike in COVID-19 and patients in rural areas count on air ambulances to get them to the care they need. Transfers between hospitals via air transport is also more important than ever as patients are moved to facilities where there are enough beds and staff.

    Air Methods has bases throughout Florida, and is working hard to go in-network with insurance companies in order to take patients out of the billing process. We are incredibly proud to be in-network with Florida Blue, and we see how it has directly benefited our patients by simplifying their billing process and lowering their out-of-pocket costs.

    However, there is still work to be done in Florida. A state bill (HB747) puts patients at risk of losing life-saving healthcare resources like air medical services. Dr. Charles Sand, who is an emergency and EMS physician in West Central Florida and the medical director of Air Methods’ AirLife and LifeNet helicopters, recently wrote an appeal directly to Gov. Ron DeSantis’ office. In it, he humbly asks that the governor vetoes HB747.

    HB747 was pushed through the Legislature unilaterally by insurers who claimed, without any supporting public health data, that air medical services are not that necessary and can easily be trimmed from Florida’s health care system — more importantly, from insurers’ own balance sheets. This simply isn’t true.

    Dr. Sand’s op-ed was published in the Orlando Sentinel on June 25. You can read the full article here.

  • Where have all the patients gone?

    by JaeLynn Williams | Jun 18, 2020

    COVID-19 has created a secondary epidemic in which people are effectively risking their lives to avoid risking their lives. Imagine a family member enduring a heart attack at home with no medical attention. It’s a terrifying thought. But it is happening with alarming regularity all over the country.  A recent piece by Tomislav Mihaljevic, MD, Cleveland Clinic, and Gianrico Farrugia, MD, Mayo Clinic, and highlighted by Becker’s Hospital Review, believe delayed care may have been responsible for as many deaths as COVID-19.

    Dr. Andrew Garrity, the medical staff president at Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center (EIRMC) in Idaho Falls and the medical director for Air Idaho Rescue, recently described the issue in an op-ed for the Post Register. He noted that the EIRMC Emergency Department experienced a 42 percent reduction in patient volume in April. But that’s only part of the story. Among the people who do come to the ER, inpatient admissions have increased by 41 percent over last spring. That means that those who are seeking care in the ER right now are sicker, often because they delay that care until it is impossible to avoid a trip to the hospital.

    Air Methods CEO JaeLynn Williams wrote an article for Becker’s Hospital Review on June 15 about this problem. Air medical services have seen far fewer patients these past two months as well. Industrywide, transports are down about 40 percent. While the decline has been steeper in urban COVID-19 hotspots, it also holds across rural America, which is home to about 46 million people (more than 15 percent of the U.S. population). Those who live in these areas are more likely to die from heart disease, unintentional injuries, and stroke than people in more urban areas.

    As many states begin to emerge from their shelter in place orders, it is important to remember that we are still in the beginning stages of dealing with the novel coronavirus. A vaccine will not be readily available for an undetermined amount of time, and wearing masks while practicing social distancing precautions are not going away any time soon. During the continued and uncertain fight ahead, it is important that people understand they cannot allow fears about COVID-19 to lead to other life-threatening consequences.

    Read the entire article here.

  • The latest tools to ensure successful first-pass intubation

    by Dave Olvera | Jun 04, 2020

    The facilitation of advanced airway management in the prehospital setting is a critical technique for patient care. Historically, the modalities and techniques have changed in prehospital transport. Included in these updates is the advancement of intubation devices and enhanced cognitive offload tools.

    Earlier this week, I wrote an article for AirMed&Rescue that discusses those updates and examines the importance of prehospital care. It includes information about preparation; intubation locations; the rapid sequence intubation (RSI) checklist; and implementing a quality dashboard or metric to evaluate internal airway management.

    The goal of ongoing research and investigation highlights the importance of improving first pass success rates through basic instruction. Included in these instructional practices should be knowledge of diverse intubation devices along with appropriate use of checklist utilization. These practices will improve first pass success. To further determine needs and successes, individual programs can be combined into the larger GAMUT to compare and contrast data. Simplistic in form yet powerful in output, successful first-pass intubation practices save lives.

    Read the entire article here.

    David Olvera is a nationally registered Paramedic, Certified Flight Paramedic and Certified Medical Transport Executive serving as Director of Clinical Research and Department Chair for the research committee for Air Methods. He serves on the International Board of Flight and Critical Care Paramedics as well as the MedEvac Foundation International. He is the Vice-President of Research at FlightBridgeED, a Veteran Combat Medic in the US Army, and has published multiple abstracts and papers related to pre-hospital airway management, resuscitation and advancing air medical transport research.

  • Air Methods dedicated to serving older Americans with No Membership Required

    by Air Methods | May 28, 2020

    We all see older adults around the country make their mark every day as volunteers, employees, employers, parents, grandparents, mentors, and advocates. They offer their time, talents, and experience to the benefit of our communities.

    May is Older Americans Month (OAM) and, as we come to the end of the month, we wanted to make sure we recognized these invaluable members of our society. During this annual celebration, led by the Administration for Community Living (ACL), OAM offers resources to help older Americans stay healthy and independent.

    At Air Methods, we are proud to do our part to ensure the health, safety, and independence of older Americans by providing air medical transport during emergencies ranging from accidents on the road to health concerns like heart attacks and strokes. When people from this older demographic are in need, we work hard to provide them with the best care available, and quickly get them to a facility where doctors and nurses can continue that care.

    We are also dedicated to making access to air medical services as simple as possible. That is why, last year, we implemented our No Membership Required program.

    For many years, air medical services have sold memberships as a way for patients to access emergency services in the most critical situations. However, these memberships are not right for patients – particularly for older patients. If someone ever needs air medical care, they receive it with or without a membership. They are in critical condition and the last thing anyone should worry about is which air medical service a patient is a member of.

    In addition, air medical services are already covered for Medicare and Medicaid beneficiaries, so no membership is necessary. As a commitment to these patients, Air Methods has been in the process of refunding any membership fees paid by those who have Medicare or Medicaid.

    According to AARP, “the number of people 65 and older in the United States is expected to increase to 55 million in 2020; to some 70 million by 2030, and to 88.5 million — or 20 percent of the population — in 2050. (Put yet another way, between 2006 and 2030, the U.S. population of adults aged 65+ will nearly double from 37 million to 71.5 million people).”

    It is important that this growing population of older Americans know what care they are entitled to, and that they understand memberships are completely unnecessary should they require air medical services.

  • Recognizing Our Everyday Heroes

    by Air Methods | May 21, 2020

    As EMS Week comes to an end, and we head into Memorial Day Weekend, it is the perfect time to say thank you to the selfless heroes who put their lives on the line to rescue and care for the sick and injured every single day. At Air Methods, and all the other air medical services around the country, that means the pilots, the nurses and the respiratory therapists who take to the sky to treat and transport those who are in need. Of course, we salute our partners on the ground as well – the ambulance drivers and EMTs with whom we work daily.

    During the past few months, as COVID-19 has dominated every aspect of our lives, few have demonstrated more sacrifice or been more vital than members of the EMS community. The theme of 2020 EMS Week is “Ready Today. Preparing for Tomorrow.” While that theme was designated well before the pandemic, it is incredibly fitting for where we find ourselves today. Below are a few examples of the tireless work of our air medical teams in recognition of their efforts.

    New York

    Aidan O’Connor, Jr., Air Methods Northeast Sales Director, was informed one night in early April that Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, New York City, had experienced an interruption in its oxygen system, threatening the lives of many COVID-19 patients who were suffering from respiratory failure. Working with Jennifer Noce, an Air Methods clinician who was stationed at the facility, they coordinated efforts to move patients to facilities that were equipped to treat them in the upstate region of Albany.

    All told, 23 aircraft were dispatched to JFK that night to meet ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients from Jamaica Hospital. In total over that week, 49 patients were transported to Albany Medical Center and other Albany area hospitals in upstate New York, which were not experiencing the crisis-level surge that healthcare facilities all over NYC were dealing with.

    It was an amazing coordination of care.

    Nebraska

    During the past several weeks, we have seen that rural areas and small Midwest cities are experiencing the same crises that urban centers experienced when the COVID-19 outbreak began. Nebraska is a primary example of that fact. The state has seen the employees of meat-packing plants, and residents of the surrounding towns, hit hard by the virus recently.

    "I've never seen anything like this in the 20-plus years I've been a paramedic," said Dan Duncan, a flight paramedic for StarCare, an Air Methods base located in Crete, Nebraska. He added that the COVID-19 patients, he has transferred are "probably some of the sickest patients I've ever seen."

    During a week in mid-April, CHI Health St. Francis hospital in Grand Island was transferring patients to hospitals in Lincoln and Omaha several times a week, with Air Methods airlifting many of the sick.

    You can see some of our team members recounting their work in Nebraska in this piece from Fox 42 in Omaha.

    The work continues

    Be it caring for people injured in a car accident, or for those suffering from COVID-19, EMS crews continue to prove their worth day in and day out. At Air Methods, we are incredibly proud to have a team of professionals across the country who live in the communities they serve and dedicate their lives to ensuring their neighbors are safe and healthy.

    If you have the chance, during this week or any other, thank an EMS professional. They deserve all our gratitude. 

  • The Pope Family: A Patient Story

    by Air Methods | May 14, 2020

    The steamy morning of July 4, 2019, began with the anticipation of sandwiches, cold beverages and a leisurely, refreshing cruise down South Carolina’s Sampit River later that day followed by fireworks in the evening. To be sure everything was perfect when his wife Calli and a few other people joined them, 42-year-old Harry Pope told his neighbor he’d help him take the neighbor’s boat out for a test run on the water since it hadn’t been used for a while.

    Harry and Calli were especially looking forward to a day of mindless relaxation since chronic medical issues had meant Harry was only able to work sporadically at his job as a plumber since February, creating money worries. This would be a chance to leave their troubles on the shore and just enjoy time with friends.

    Everything went well with the test cruise – until it didn’t. As Harry and the neighbor were heading back home, a steering cable broke and the boat careened out of control until it ran aground in some trees on a nearby riverbank.

    The boat’s owner, who had been driving it at the time, was fine. He had a couple of fractures along with cuts and bruises but was otherwise intact. Harry, however, hadn’t been as lucky.

    He had been sitting on the front center console, and when the boat went up the embankment at roughly 20 knots he was exposed to the tree branches waiting there. Fortunately, he was able to duck under the first one, which would have immediately decapitated him. But a lower branch caught him in the chest, pinning him between the mature tree and the boat.

    Harry knew something was wrong immediately. He was in a great deal of pain and couldn’t move. He managed to fish his mobile phone out of his pocket and, despite the pain, he called Calli to let her know what had happened.

    “It was very scary,” she says.

    Air Methods transported Harry from the scene, and he recovered from his injuries.

    Read the full story here to learn about the Pope family’s journey through this difficult emergency and its aftermath, and how Air Methods was there to help ease the financial burden of Harry’s care.

  • A Night in New York: Lessons Learned from the COVID-19 Response

    by Air Methods | May 08, 2020

    By Aidan O’Connor, Jr.
    Northeast Sales Director, Air Methods

    The past couple of months have been a true test for the entire healthcare industry. COVID-19 has challenged us all. As is often the case when disasters occur, even unprecedented ones like this, people have stepped up all over the world to do their part to fight the pandemic. And we have been forced to quickly develop new ways of doing things.  

    In my role at Air Methods, coordinating transports between hospitals and our flight crews, I have seen many examples of heroism since this crisis began. One recent incident in which I was involved exemplified the dedication and talent of healthcare heroes on the frontlines.

    From my location in upstate New York, I was informed one night in early April that Jamaica Hospital Medical Center in Queens, New York City, had experienced an interruption in its oxygen system, threatening the lives of many COVID-19 patients who were suffering from respiratory failure. I began communicating with one of my teammates, Jennifer Noce, a clinician who was stationed at the facility, to coordinate efforts to move patients to facilities that were equipped to treat them, while also relieving the pressure that staff was experiencing at Jamaica Hospital.

    Jennifer worked with Jamaica Hospital’s emergency director and charge nurse to locate patients who needed transport, while I worked with Albany Medical Center and officials in New York City to begin moving those patients from Queens to upstate New York. Several other Air Methods colleagues helped manage all the moving parts. William Stubba, one of our area managers, for example, worked hard to get aircraft to JFK International Airport in NYC.

    All told, we dispatched 23 aircraft to JFK that night to meet ambulances carrying COVID-19 patients from Jamaica Hospital. In total over that week, we transported a total of 49 patients to Albany Medical Center and other Albany area hospitals in upstate New York, which were not experiencing the crisis-level surge that healthcare facilities all over NYC were dealing with.

    It was an amazing coordination of care. The Albany Medical Center Transfer Center acted as a point of contact and identified available beds for patients who were en route to their facility. The decision of who to transport was made by the physicians and healthcare providers at the referring hospital, which were then accepted by physicians at Albany Medical Center.

    I was honored to be a part of this incredible effort. It exemplified the synergy that is needed during times of adversity, when agility, communication and determination saves lives. Everyone was dedicated to these efforts and were able to work through an intense and somewhat chaotic situation. From clinicians like Jennifer, to managers like William, to the many pilots, nurses and mechanics on each flight crew – everyone came together to accomplish a goal that developed rapidly.

    This incident proved to be an invaluable learning experience for myself and everyone else who was involved. Air medical services are often called to the scenes of accidents where there is not much time to think. The crew arrives, they stabilize the patient, and they fly them to the appropriate hospital. During the pandemic, in incidents like the one at Jamaica Hospital, a different plan of attack has been required.

    While we have always taken a highly coordinated approach, incidents like car accidents have many similarities and procedures become almost automatic. However, that has not been the case when dealing with COVID-19. Agility and deliberate decision-making coordinated among multiple teams has become more integrated into our processes. And that will help us improve our approach to care long after we emerge from this pandemic. 
  • Health Affairs study points out problems with balance billing, but doesn’t address entire issue

    by JaeLynn Williams | Apr 17, 2020

    By JaeLynn Williams
    CEO, Air Methods

    This week, our team read with interest a study titled, “Most Patients Undergoing Ground And Air Ambulance Transportation Receive Sizable Out-Of-Network Bills,” that was published by Health Affairs on April 15. While it examines balance billing from one point of view, it is important to provide thoughts from the perspective of an emergency air ambulance provider that has first-hand experience with the issue. 

    During the past several years, and before any legislation was considered, Air Methods has certainly recognized the problem of balance billing in our industry and has enacted a variety of strategies to take patients out of the middle of this complicated process. A key initiative has been our work to partner with insurance companies all over the country to reach in-network agreements. This has proven to be the most effective way to ensure patients do not have to deal with unexpected charges.

    The average out-of-pocket cost for our patients amounts to just a little over $200. This data set is completely absent from the study, as is any acknowledgement of the provider’s attempt to resolve the claim. Our prevailing tendency, through our Patient Advocacy process, to forgive the balance left by the insurance company contradicts much of the premise in this study.

    The Health Affairs study states that, “legislation at the state and federal levels is being considered to protect patients from these ‘surprise bills,’ defined as out-of-network charges.” While these legislative efforts are underway, Air Methods has proactively and independently worked with insurance companies and has reached agreements with 54 health plans to date.

    Our goal is to be 100 percent in-network nationwide. In-network coverage offers health plan members a discounted, out-of-pocket payment for qualified services, which varies depending on their plan’s benefits. It is important to note that health insurance companies control who is “in-network” for their plans, and, unfortunately, some of the largest national payers, United Healthcare, Cigna and Aetna, have been unwilling to add Air Methods as an in-network provider at rates consistent with what they are already paying today.

    Another key detail in the Health Affairs study is its frame of reference, which does not take into account work that has been done over the past three years (all data is from 2013 to 2017). The gap in data from 2017 to present is particularly significant to Air Methods, as we have made a great deal of progress in eliminating balance bills during the past three years – going from just 6 percent in-network to nearly 50 percent today. This means that more than 80 percent of the population is covered for Air Methods’ services either through commercial insurance or through Medicare or Medicaid so they will not receive a balance bill for services. Once these final three large national payers I mentioned above allow us to be in-network, we will, for all intents and purposes, be very close to our 100 percent goal and have the ability to eliminate balance bills.

    Along with our own efforts to partner with insurance companies, we continue to work with state and federal legislatures for a more accurate Medicaid and Medicare reimbursement model. Currently, more than 70 percent of air medical flights are Medicare, Medicaid or self-pay/uninsured, which only covers approximately 30 percent of the median cost of a flight. At the federal level, we support legislation that would preserve access to these life-saving services, while addressing the issue of consumer costs by updating the Medicare reimbursement rates of air medical services to be based on the actual cost of care, which has not been updated in over 20 years.

    I would also be remiss if I didn’t point out a few elements that are missing from the study.  It does not look at the denial rate of health insurance companies when it comes to emergency air medical transports. On average, more than 50 percent of our emergency air medical transport claims are denied by insurance companies on first examination. That means the patient and the provider must appeal to the insurance company for payment using the process created by the insurance company itself.  And it often takes months of appeals before the patient knows whether their insurance company will cover the cost of the emergency air medical transport.  Almost every single denial is overturned after this lengthy and time-consuming appeal process.

    At Air Methods, we only balance-bill for two very specific reasons: First, if the patient does not provide us with their insurance coverage information so we can bill their insurance company or if they do not assist in the appeals process – which is a requirement set by the insurance company; Second, if the insurance company sends the payment for emergency services directly to the patient, who then either willfully or as directed by insurance, does not send the reimbursement check to Air Methods (the provider) for payment of medical care.

    The authors of the study point out that they “were not able to observe whether patients were balance-billed.” That means the dramatic phrasing of the Health Affairs headline is misleading—the potential for a balance bill does not equate to an actual balance bill. A health insurance company’s reimbursement behavior dictates that potential. The study lays the blame for a potential balance bill not at the feet of the insurance company for its lack of reimbursement, but solely with the provider.

    Our healthcare system is complicated and, unfortunately, patients are indeed often caught in the middle. While the issue of balance billing and the cost of air medical transportation is complex, Air Methods continues to actively work with all willing parties to make sure patients can focus on recovery and that insurance fairly covers this necessary service.

  • During COVID-19 Crisis, Air Medical Services Are Crucial Component To Timely Patient Care

    by JaeLynn Williams | Apr 09, 2020

    By JaeLynn Williams, CEO

    During this national healthcare crisis, Air Methods continues to provide life-saving emergency air medical services for patients. The safety of our teammates, partners and our patients, remains our top priority and our vital services will continue, without disruption as long as we can do so in a safe manner, in accordance with proper medical protocol.

    Emergency air medical providers are a critical link in ensuring rural medical access. As COVID-19 spreads from more urban areas to our rural communities, we stand ready to care for those critically ill patients who are facing respiratory failure, among other conditions. Strokes, heart attacks, and scene accidents don’t stop because of this pandemic, and if the outbreak worsens, we will see greater need for air medical services to transport patients to the appropriate care environment. Moreover, if the outbreak worsens, ICUS may become overwhelmed and patients will need to be transported to other hospitals.

    To that end, Air Methods has formed a COVID-19 task force to evaluate all care challenges, recommend appropriate actions, and implement new protocols. We will continue to monitor and evaluate evolving national, state and local guidance via the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), local health officials and our teammates.

    Air Methods has equipped our clinical and operations teams with procedures and safeguards for care of patients during the pandemic, including patients symptomatic for COVID-19. These include the use of personal protective equipment (PPE), which is critical for the health and safety of our teams, their loved ones, and the communities and patients we serve. We are following CDC recommendations regarding disinfection of the transport vehicle after transporting a patient with a potential or confirmed case of COVID-19.  Office-based staff who can do their job remotely are working from home to reduce unnecessary risk.

    It has been brought to our attention that some air medical companies have made the decision to stop transporting COVID-19 patients. The safety of our pilots and clinicians is our top priority. Air Methods is flying, and will continue to fly, positive/suspected COVID-19 patients only when the proper PPE is available for our crew. We are called to transport patients due to the critical nature of their condition - as long as we have the appropriate PPE for the safety of our crew, we will respond.

    Air Methods is working closely with our local, state and federal officials, as well as our local partners to ensure that the medical supplies and equipment supply chain is not disrupted. It is critical that air medical providers have access to additional supply chains for PPEs in the short term to ensure continued operations.

    As our partners see their patient load increase, we are working with them to assist with surge capacity. We are identifying resources, collaborating with local EMS and Fire, and assistance planning for EMS/HEMS vehicle control/staging. Additionally, we are coordinating communication through our AirCom office with national emergency communications center, fielding calls, providing flight coordination, logistical support, and use of our AirCom app to save time, improve accuracy, and simplifying the process resulting in better outcomes.

    We are also taking every measure to protect the financial wellbeing of patients affected by COVID-19. We have implemented a patient advocacy process for these patients and are actively working with all payers in-network and out-of-network payers to form productive partnerships. We will work closely with our patients to ensure their emergency air medical service is covered.

    During this challenging time, the safety of our employees and patients is our top priority. We recognize this is an ever-changing situation, and as new information arises, we will continue to update policies and procedures as needed. We are committed to continue providing the best care in the air to the communities that rely on us.