When most people think about air ambulance, the think of a LifeFlight helicopter picking you up from an automobile trauma and speeding you to the nearest trauma center.
The reality is that the vast majority of air ambulance flights today are hospital to hospital transfers often of stable patients—only around 7% of flight are site pickups related to trauma.
Air ambulances, once owned for the most part by hospital systems and municipalities, and often operated at a loss, have become a big business.
- Three companies own 75% of the helicopters and fixed wing planes used for air ambulance and they are highly profit driven.
- From 2006 – 2017, they have increased their prices by 285%
- During the same period, they have increased transport volumes by 30%
- A 65 mile ride in a ground ambulance costs the consumer around $2,000, can you guess what average bill is for the same transport by air ambulance—it’s $36,000
- The average cost for a fixed-wing (plane) air ambulance is $55,000, but long-distance transfers are often much more—in the hundreds of thousands of dollars
When a person is in the hospital and their doctor tells them that they need to be transferred to a different hospital, they often don’t question the means or the cost
- When a hospital physician writes an order to transfer a patient, they generally are not specifying by air or by ground. Often that decision is left to the air ambulance provider.
- Because profits are so much higher on air transports, the air ambulance providers are incented to fly patients rather than transfer them by ground ambulance
- One strategy that air ambulance companies have used is to buy local ground ambulance companies and withhold ground services so that they can fly patients at greater profits
Air ambulance providers say they “take all insurance,” and that is often interpreted by people to mean that their insurance will cover the cost of transport. It often doesn’t.
77% of air ambulance transports are “out-of-network,” and this means that patients can be billed for whatever insurance doesn’t cover. This is called balance-billing and it has become a regular practice of the large air ambulance companies. A recent study shows that 40% of patients transported by air ambulance were exposed to balance billing and that the average balance bill was almost $20,000
Alacura was built to help patients get the transport they need without the risk of a large surprise bill. Alacura works with hospitals to ensure that ambulance transports are done safely, quickly, and efficiently, and with healthplans, patients and their families to ensure that patients know they have options and that they need not be transported unnecessarily by air. If patients do need to be transported by air, ensure that they fly with a safe, reliable, in-network provider.