Wednesday: Please check back later this morning. We have two potential updates to this story; we’re awaiting one report.
Less than a year after landing at Redmond Regional Medical Center in an agreement with the hospital, AirLife Georgia is said to be pulling its helicopter and flight crew from Rome. Notice was given to staff on Monday evening, Hometown Headlines has learned.
The move comes following a business period where Redmond’s built a helipad near its emergency center to accommodate the chopper. The 24-7 crews also had accommodations at the hospital, added by Redmond.
We contacted Air Methods for comment earlier Tuesday and received this 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, Ga.
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.
The concept was to “accommodate multiple members of emergency and trauma teams.” In an earlier statement, the company said of the Redmond location: “The new location offers enhanced access to care via our flying intensive care unit for the residents and visitors of Northwest Georgia and Northeast Alabama.”
In late April, Air Methods announced it had “expanded its partnership with Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Shield and will now be part of the plans’ in-network health coverage benefits in six additional states across the country” including Georgia. The agreement let health plan members “receive Air Methods’ critical care in the air services at discounted in-network rates.”