A statement from the company stated that the current reimbursement models are just not sustainable. The cost of the around-the-clock readiness averages nearly $3 million per year for each air base, according to a cost study prepared for the Association of Air Medical Services. Further, approximately 85% percent of costs are fixed costs associated with operating an air base, giving companies little leeway in reducing costs on their own.
Following questions and speculations surrounding the situation, we also received a lengthy statement from Kurt Stuenkel, President and CEO of Floyd Medical Center to address some of those issues.
We reached out to the Public Relations Department at Redmond Regional Medical to get a statement from them regarding the situation however; Redmond declined to offer any comments or statements and referred us back to Air Methods for comments and further questions.
Air Methods will continue to cover the service area with other medical aircraft including Air Life 3 in Jasper, Georgia and Air Life 5 in Kennesaw, Georgia in addition to other air medical providers in the area.
We will continue to follow this story as new details develop. You can view the statements from both Air Methods and Floyd Medical Center below.
AIR METHODS STATEMENT:
Air Methods, the leading air medical services provider, announced that after a thorough review and analysis of its operations, it will no longer maintain its Air Life Georgia 15 base in Rome, Georgia.
Air Methods will continue to cover the service area with other Air Methods air medical aircraft including: Air Life Georgia 3 in Jasper and Air Life Georgia 5 in Kennesaw, in addition to other air medical providers in area.
The dispatch center will not experience any interruption in service. The same dispatch number (888-763-1010) will continue to be used for emergency air medical services request and the dispatch center will coordinate the request. In addition, Air Methods is working with all employees on opportunities for other positions within Air Methods or their next career steps.
Air Methods is dedicated to the delivery of emergency, lifesaving care to anyone who needs it, 24/7/365. Air Methods does not self-dispatch—we only go when we are called, and we transport every patient who needs our services, regardless of their ability to pay. In many cases, we are the only link between hospitals for patients who need more intensive care, which is a responsibility we take very seriously as we make these decisions.
We want to thank the Rome community, including the team at Redmond Regional Medical Center, for their support throughout the year. We are committed to continuing to provide service to the area when needed.
Current Reimbursement Models are Not Sustainable
The cost of this around-the-clock readiness averages nearly $3 million per year for each air base, according to a cost study prepared for the Association of Air Medical Services (AAMS). Further, approximately 85% percent of costs are fixed costs associated with operating an air base, giving companies little leeway in reducing costs on their own.
However, reimbursement for services has not kept up with costs. Medicare, which covers air medical services in emergency cases only, established the current air medical service payment rates in 2002 based on an estimated 1998 cost pool. Today, the average Medicare per-transport reimbursement covers approximately half of the cost per transport, according to the AAMS study.
In Georgia, nearly 70% of our transports are Medicaid, Medicare, and self-pay/uninsured, which combined reimburses less than 30% of overall costs. Again, we don’t self-dispatch nor have any idea of insurance status until after we deliver our patient and finish our mission. Medicaid in Georgia pays $3,000 per patient transport, with Medicare covering just over $5,000, and self-pay/uninsured normal out of pocket is roughly $239.
Combined with the number of uninsured patients in Georgia and the low payments by government payers, each Georgia air ambulance patient with private health insurance has to cover the costs for the remaining balance left by these 70% of transports. This business environment is not sustainable and puts emergency transport access at risk, which is critical in a rural state like Georgia.
Fortunately, Air Methods is in-network with Anthem of Georgia, as wells the national Humana health insurance plan and more than 25 other in-network commercial health plan agreements across the country. We will continue to aggressively pursue payer agreements across the country so that patients have access to discounted, out-of-pocket payment for qualified services, which varies depending on their plan’s benefits.
Additionally, our Air Methods’ Patient Advocacy Program has dedicated patient advocates who work with each patient to navigate the complexities of insurance reimbursement and to assist in obtaining payment for air ambulance services through the patient’s insurance coverage, including walking the patient through the insurer’s appeals and grievance process.
However, if the low government reimbursement continues, businesses will be deterred from providing this critical service that is needed. The best solution is to increase Medicaid reimbursement at the state level and the federal government to increase Medicare reimbursement for air emergency services which will ensure that the government doesn’t place this burden of debt on private businesses.
FLOYD MEDICAL CENTER STATEMENT:
Air-Life Georgia announced that they are closing their base at Redmond Regional Medical Center. It is important for our community to know they are not without air ambulance support and that air ambulance service is available when they need it.
Although Air-Life has not indicated that Floyd’s use of their service was in any way related to Air-Life Georgia’s decision to close its base at Redmond, recent chatter in social media has attempted to hold Floyd responsible. Air-Life made a business decision with Redmond to establish their service at Redmond. Floyd was not consulted prior to this decision. Now they have made a decision to close it. Floyd was not involved in that decision either.
It should be noted that over a month ago Floyd invited Redmond’s board to open a broader discussion led by physicians and other clinicians about clinical decision-making and the appropriate transport and treatment of trauma patients in our community, but that offer was not accepted.
It should be further noted that Floyd has not stopped using Air-Life. In fact, we used the Air-Life helicopter based at Redmond as recently as Monday (yesterday), and we will continue to use their service, when appropriate. Our decisions are based on what is best for our patients. In fact, it would be improper to guarantee a pre-determined volume of calls to any air ambulance provider, as aeromedical transport is reserved for the most critical patients, and the need for that service, thankfully, is sporadic and uncommon. It is in the best interest of our patients for clinicians and physicians to have flexibility in choosing an air ambulance provider.
Some may argue that our community is less safe without a helicopter service based in Rome. This is simply not true. Air-Life’s decision will not result in a delay in care for the community. When aeromedical support is needed, an air ambulance will be available and can be at the helipad in less than 10 minutes. Our physicians have confirmed that patients rarely, if ever, wait on the air ambulance to arrive. Instead, the emergency team is using this time to stabilize and prepare the patient for air transport. There are several aeromedical transport options that can easily reach any of our patients quickly and efficiently, and they are supported by the outstanding care provided by the receiving hospitals they serve.
Floyd’s approach to aeromedical resources is that we use them sparingly and only when medically necessary, with the full support of our outstanding emergency room physicians, trauma surgeons and emergency clinicians.