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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  • by Debbie Location: Pennsylvania on Apr 8, 2012 at 04:36 PM
    I was life flighted from a minor accident because the air bag deployed. I've been informed it's the EMS call to do this. I have no insurance and my bill is $26,400. I am quite proud of my credit, but I may have to claim bankruptcy. There were 2 hospitals about 4 miles away but they don't have a trauma center so I was life flighted. Is that EMS going to help pay this bill, I subscribe to ambulance to transport me, not a darn helicopter.
  • by TINA EURESTI Location: fernley,Nv on Feb 25, 2012 at 02:00 PM
    This is so true. I know with the experince my husband had. he would not have been air lifted if he had no insurance. I agree it is wonderfull for true evacuations. But i can see they found away to take advanage of sick people who trust they would not be transported if not needed. I am sure if they had no insurance they would not be offered. I would like to get information on how many trips for un reasonable fees have been denied to someone who had no insurance and more clearly emergency. Compared to insured patients transported for non critical care.
  • by Former Pilot Location: Colorado on Dec 27, 2011 at 07:49 AM
    All that I acn say is....the pilots get paid less the the flight paramedics and the profit margin for the largest medical evacuation company in the world (based in Englewood, Co.)was $556,000,000.00 this year. I've flown many people to hospitals for this company that were treated and released the same day.
  • by Perry Location: Sandy, Utah on Oct 5, 2011 at 09:50 AM
    Here is something to think about...An equipped jet helicopter will cost north of $5MM. Monthly payments on that amount at 5% over 10 years is $53,032 per month. Add an experienced pilot at say $6,000 per month and 2 member medical crew at say $6,000 per month each that's $71,032 per month. Add the fuel at 50 gal per hour at $6.00 and per-hour maintenance and engine replacement at around $700 per hour (jet engine replacements can be upwards of $1MM) your hourly cost of the copter alone is about $1,000. Add the salaries broken-down by hour at another $150 with benefits plus daily stand-by time at say $600 per flight hour, add ground personnel at another $300 and a 20% markup for the company and 20% for permits and government red-tape, a two-hour flight would cost around $5,000. And, oh, I forgot the liability and hull insurance premium on the copter and personnel...just something to think about.
  • by chasity Location: Michigan on Jul 8, 2011 at 08:13 PM
    My husband was in a motorcycle accident back in May and had to be air lifted to a downstate hospital. I am still waiting on the bill for that. After reading the posts here, I don't want to see the bill anymore, but I guess i don't care about the price, my husband is alive and recovering great. Hopes to be back to work by the end of the yr.
  • by kathy Location: Texas on Jun 24, 2011 at 05:09 AM
    Air flights are good used in right way; is there a number to call to report unnecessary flights by a local volunteer ambulance service?
  • by Ron Location: Fitchburg on May 9, 2011 at 03:17 PM
    Life flight $21 thousand plus. Sure Im alive thats $7 thousand more than my retirement.
  • by Shayne Location: Portland, OR on Mar 2, 2011 at 05:22 AM
    About a month ago I was fishing on a commercial vessel about 80 miles NNW of Dutch Harbor in the Bering Sea when I sustained an eye injury. The captain of the vessel made sure that I was made comfortable and headed for port ( an eight hour run ). Upon arrival in Dutch Harbor I was taken to the local clinic who advised me that I would need to be seen by a specialist in Anchorage. They had a Life Flight plane already scheduled for that day to pick up another patient in serious but stable condition and advised that I ride along."They are flying out anyway". The flight from Dutch Harbor to Anchorage is an 800 mile three and a half hour ride also available commercially for approximately $700.00. There was a commercial flight leaving before my Life Flight arrived in Dutch. Spoke with my insurance adjuster handling my case yesterday and he told me they had just received the bill from the Life Flight provider for $89,000 I couldn't possibly have heard him right. "$89,000" He said.
  • by Michelle Location: Panama City, Fl on Feb 28, 2011 at 06:09 PM
    I am a teacher in Bay County. My four year old was admitted to the GC Hospital here. Within 6 hours, I was told he would have to be life flighted to Scared Heart in Pensacola. His left lung was "whited out" and he would have gone into respiratory failure. Upon entering S. Heart he had a chest tube put in and was in ICU on a ventilator for 8 and 1/2 days- in the hospiatl for for 4 days with Strp. Pneumonia. I am a single parent who is praying for an answer and appealing the bill. My BCBS insurance paid the maximum amount and my part is 15 thousand dollars. I am grateful beyond words he is alive and doing well. NO IDEA- how I can pay a bill that is half of what I make in a year. Please email me with any answers. Thanks to great doctors:) Help, Michelle
  • by Mary Location: Florida on Feb 3, 2011 at 03:21 PM
    Any advice for someone who is in the same spot? My bill was over $17,000 and after BCBS my part is $12,500. Air Method has offered a 15% discount with payments of $250 a month. I had no choice in who was used to life flight me. It is upsetting to pay such a high insurance premium and then be in this spot. So if anyone can offer guidance, it would be appreciated.
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