By Carter Johnson
The Aug. 8 article in the News Tribune about the air ambulance industry missed the point ("Does the Iron Range need two air ambulance bases?").
Air medical services are a critical part of the health care delivery system in the U.S., particularly for rural communities. Air ambulance suppliers and providers do not "find more people to put in helicopters," as Tom Judge, executive director of LifeFlight of Maine, commented in the article. Medical helicopters only respond when a first responder requests the helicopter to the scene or a physician at the hospital summons the helicopter to transfer a patient to a higher level of care. Medical helicopters do not self-dispatch.
The claim that, "air ambulance rates have become very lucrative" is far from the truth. Today, the reimbursement for seven of 10 patients does not cover costs, regardless of whether you are a not-for-profit hospital or consortium business model or whether you are a for-profit air ambulance supplier or provider. Cost-shifting is needed by all services.
The real challenge is the way in which these vital services are reimbursed. Seven out of 10 transports are patients with Medicare, Medicaid, or no insurance. Because Medicare reimbursements haven't been updated in almost 20 years, it vastly under-reimburses providers for air medical services, on average covering only 30 percent to 50 percent of the actual cost.
That's why a bill has been introduced in Congress, the Ensuring Access for Air Ambulance Services Act, to address this shortfall.
We with the Save Our Air-Medical Resources, or S.O.A.R., Campaign, urge Congress to approve this legislation so all Americans can rest assured they'll have access to emergency air medical transport when it's needed most.
The writer is from the Save Our Air-Medical Resources Campaign, or S.O.A.R. Campaign.