The Hill: Emergency air medical services must be preserved and protected

By Seth Myers

Every American deserves access to life-saving health care services, regardless of where they live, what kind of health coverage they have, or their ability to pay. In the event of a trauma or other serious injury or illness, millions of people living in rural areas must rely on air transport by helicopter for timely access to emergency care because they simply cannot receive it in time via ground.

In fact, nearly one-third of the U.S. population cannot reach an adequate trauma center within one hour without air transport. This one-hour window is absolutely critical. Known as the “Golden Hour,” the first 60 minutes after a serious illness, injury or trauma, such as a stroke or severe burn, are the window in which the difference is often made between life and death, and preserving quality of life. For those of us who have been in those helicopters treating critical patients, the phrase “time is tissue” is a phrase to live by.

But today, communities are at risk of losing access to this vital service because of a fundamentally flawed insurance reimbursement system, in which providers of air medical services are being drastically under-reimbursed by Medicare and Medicaid and by certain private providers.