Air ambulances are often credited with saving patients’ lives because they quickly transport them to a hospital for medical treatment. However, air ambulances are increasingly leaving patients with staggering medical bills they cannot pay.
Recent cases have shown patients receiving bills of $45,000 and $54,000. Some have run as high as $533,000. Insurance typically covers only a fraction of the cost.
Air ambulances have become so costly that state lawmakers in Virginia have passed a new law that will give people a choice between getting transported by air ambulance or waiting for a regular ambulance.
It’s important to note that air ambulance is a different service than the non-emergency medical transport offered by companies such as Flying Angels.
Judge Left With $41,000 Air Ambulance Bill
Judge Sonna Anderson from Bismarck, ND., was thrown from her horse in September 2017. The 60-year-old lost consciousness and broke three ribs. She was brought to a hospital via air ambulance, according to CNN.
Anderson told CNN that her husband repeatedly asked why an air ambulance helicopter was necessary. A regular ambulance could have gotten her to a hospital less than an hour away. But he was told the air ambulance was necessary – although he was never told why and the official record gives no reason, according to CNN.
Anderson ended up with a $54,727.26 bill. Her insurance company paid $13,697.73, leaving her to come up with $41,029.53. Anderson told CNN the air ambulance crew had spent about 45 minutes with her and the price “shocked me…I wrote [the air ambulance company] a letter telling them that I thought it was all outrageous.”
A Worsening Problem
What happened to Anderson is becoming well known because she talked with CNN. But in looking into the cost of air ambulances around the country, CNN found it’s an issue that is drawing complaints everywhere.
They also found some bills reached as high as $533,000.
The issue has become more well-known as more air ambulance helicopters take flight. There are now about 900 helicopters operating as air ambulances in the United States, according to Bloomberg. They make more than 300,000 flights per year.
The business news service also reported that the average charge to Medicaid for air ambulance flights doubled between 2010 and 2014, from $14,000 to $30,000.
Bloomberg reported on a story similar to Anderson’s. A small child suffering from an apparent encephalitis attack and with a fever of 107 degrees was flown from a small town in West Virginia to a hospital 76 miles away.
The parents were hit with a $45,930 charge for the flight. Insurance covered only $6,704.
The mother told Bloomberg: “I was angry, and I felt like we were being taken advantage of.”
Lawsuits and Government Action
The parents of the child in West Virginia have sued the air ambulance company. The company has defended its charges.
Because federal law treats air ambulances like air carriers – just like Southwest or Delta – there are few restrictions on what they charge.
Virginia lawmakers are trying to help mitigate the problem by giving patients the right to choose a ground ambulance over an air ambulance if their injuries are not found severe enough to require a medical flight.
The law goes into effect in March 2019. It applies both to Virginians and anyone who is visiting the state and has a medical emergency.
Paratransit is a term that refers to transportation services for the elderly, disabled and others who cannot use regular transportation services. Usually associated as a supplement to public transportation services, it also applies to fee-for-service companies that provide Non-Emergency Medical Transport (NEMT).
In either case, paratransit provides critical services to those who can’t drive themselves or ride on regular transportation. Paratransit can include special buses that run individualized routes rather than picking up riders at a set stop. In NEMT, it can include providing transportation planning and medical services for those with disabilities or chronic conditions who wish to pay for such services.
The Roots of Paratransit
The 1973 Rehabilitation Act passed by Congress prohibited anyone from being excluded from public services that receive federal funds. The Americans with Disabilities Act of 1990 (ADA) expanded that to include any service that receives funds from the federal, state or local level.
This includes transportation services. The idea is to provide services for those who cannot use fixed-schedule rail or bus services.
Most public paratransit companies are companies that contract with the government to provide transportation services to the disabled. They are typically offered only in places where there is a public bus or rail service.
Features of public paratransit services include being “demand responsive,” meaning an individual can call and receive service at the best times for them – typically within a window of one hour before or one hour after the requested time.
Most paratransit vehicles carry more than one person. Also, the eligibility rules are set at the local level.
Eligibility requirements can be different in different areas. However, the federal https://tramadolmain.com government has three general criteria for determining who is eligible for ADA paratransit. They are included in a report funded by the Federal Transit Administration.
- A person who cannot navigate the transit system without assistance
- A person living where existing transportation routes are not accessible
- A “reasonable person” with a disability who is deterred from making a trip because of obstacles involved with public transportation (such as a long walk to the bus stop)
- People can qualify for unconditional eligibility (paratransit needed for all trips), conditional eligibility (paratransit needed for some trips) and temporary eligibility (paratransit needed for just a brief period of time).
There are other options that are not free for people who need support and medical services when they fly.
NEMT provides a solution for those who cannot use public transportation on their own, particularly when it comes to air travel. This is not to be confused, however, with free public transportation services offered through government agencies and their contractors.
A NEMT company is hired by an individual with a disability, debilitating injury or chronic medical condition that makes unattended air travel impossible. The company helps them make their travel plans, including making arrangements in advance with airports and airlines for assistance in moving through the airport and onto a plane.
Once on their trip, clients travel with experienced, trained nurses who manage their medications and ensure they remain healthy and safe during the trip.
Both public paratransit and NEMT provide critical needs to those who otherwise could not travel on their own. They are important assets in the nation’s transportation system.