Expense Outrage: The Cost of Life-Flight Ambulance Services

By: Meagan O'Halloran Email
By: Meagan O'Halloran Email

Medi-Vac helicopters, commonly know as life-flights, can mean the difference between someone surviving a traumatic injury or illness, or dying.
While most people wouldn't put a price tag on a life, insurance companies and hospitals do.
Some Walton County residents are dealing with some huge bills they received after using the AirHeart air ambulance service.
During a medical emergency, the last thing on anyone's mind is how much will this cost?
"It's worth whatever. My daughter had to use it last year” says
Mike Burke who thinks the service is invaluable.
His daughter had a terrible cut from a sliding glass door accident and it probably saved her life.”
There's no question about its necessity, but there is controversy about the enormous expense.
Another Walton county resident, Alvin Spence, was asked how much he thought the cost to be lifeflighted in air ambulance would be.
His response? "Probably about $13-$14,000” Spence says.
As it turns out, that would be a bargain.
Spence was shocked by the reality.
In Walton County, the base rate at lift off is $11,902.82, with a surcharge of $118.98 per mile.
Lynn Hoshihara is the Interim county attorney and sympathizes with the citizens who spoke out at the Tuesday night commission meeting.
"It’s a lot to have to ask from a family who's going through what they're going through to need such services to have the burden of such high fees and the threat of being sent to a collection agency” says Hoshihara.
According to the county, they have met with AirHeart representatives to negotiate flight prices and are still in the midst of mediation to reduce costs.
County Commissioner Larry Jones hopes changes are on the way.
"The average bill for a liftoff in Walton County is $18,000. The average cost concurred by the provider for that lift off is about $4000” says Jones.
So why the huge deficit?
Regional Vice President Dean Dow says "we have to charge some level above our costs to make a profit and continue to stay in business."
Air Methods says the cost of the actual flight is relatively low.
What you're paying for is the $6 million dollar chopper, the pilots and the paramedics being available 24-hours a day.
The county is hoping to come to an agreement with AirHeart and are looking for alternatives to the system that is currently in place.
What about insurance coverage?
According to Air Methods, the average insurance company covers more than 80% of life-flight charges for Florida patients.
But Bluecross-Blueshield, which insures most government, county and state workers, only covers 57% of the charges.
Air Methods filed suit against Bluecross-Blue shield in 2008 over the issue.
The trial is scheduled to begin in July.


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