By David Ebler, physician
As a trauma surgeon, I have a deep understanding of how important emergency air medical transport can be when a patient’s life is on the line.
Trauma patients often require time-sensitive care that can only be delivered by specialized or advanced medical facilities that may be miles away.
As just one example, on Mother’s Day, a young child was brought to our facility by air ambulance, transferred from a community hospital that realized it was not equipped to provide the level of care required.
Thanks to our ability to respond rapidly, I was able to have a completely different conversation with the child’s mother that day. I was able to let her know her child was alive and stable. I do not believe that would have been possible without the speed and availability of the emergency air ambulance.
However, many similar lifesaving air medical services are at risk of closing in Florida and around the country.
A large part of this financial strain is a result of the inadequate rates of reimbursement for air medical transport providers from Medicare, Medicaid and some private insurers.
Providers often don’t get reimbursed the full amount it costs to transport patients at their time of urgent need.
Air medical transport is expensive, especially when you factor in the costs of operating a 24-hour base, maintaining flight equipment and keeping experienced medical staff on standby. These expenses are necessary to deliver top-notch medical care to critically injured patients.
We cannot afford to cut corners. Clearly, policymakers at the state and federal levels need to make sure the cost of operating these services is adequately addressed by federal programs and private insurance.
While an air ambulance service is no guarantee of a full recovery, if we can make a measurable difference in the lives of most of these patients, shouldn’t we? Air medical transport is a critical part of our health care system and one that everyone should have access to, regardless of cost, in their time of greatest need.
Ebler is a physician, assistant professor of acute care surgery at the UF College of Medicine – Jacksonville and medical director for TraumaOne Flight Services at UF Health Jacksonville.