Air Methods Blog 


  • 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.