Michigan Air Ambulance Laws Protect Members from Sky-High Costs

Angela Hernandez

| 3 min read

A yellow medical center helicopter in the air
When we think of ambulances, most of us probably think of the red or white emergency vehicles we see on the roads. But did you know there are also ambulances in the sky? Air ambulances are helicopters or airplanes that transport patients to and from hospitals. These services are generally used when a ground ambulance can’t reach a patient or get there quickly enough. Patients with traumatic injuries from accidents, heart attacks, strokes or pregnancy complications often require air ambulance transportation. Most air ambulance companies are privately owned and operated, so the price for services varies and costs are continuing to soar. In fact, the average price for a medical helicopter flight has more than doubled over the last few years, from around $15,000 in 2010 to about $30,000 per transport in 2014. These rising prices have resulted in what is called a “balance bill,” where patients may be faced with tens of thousands of dollars in bills from air ambulance service providers, even after the air ambulance company has accepted payment from the patient’s health insurance plan. Patients are often unaware of these costs ahead of time, adding financial stress during an already difficult time. However, thanks to new legislation from the State of Michigan that will go into effect March 19, air ambulance providers will not be allowed to balance bill a patient in an emergency. So, if you require air ambulance transportation due to an emergency, the air ambulance company can bill your health insurance plan, but you would only be responsible for any in-network coinsurance, copayment, or deductible. The laws also require ground transportation to be used over air, if medically appropriate, and that priority is given to using an air ambulance provider that is in-network with your health plan. If non-emergency patients decide to use air ambulance transportation when other, more cost-effective options are available, the ambulance company must disclose costs to the patient before the transportation takes place. Soaring prices have resulted in balance bills in the tens of thousands and, in some cases, even hundreds of thousands of dollars. These laws have a positive impact for Michiganders by ensuring patients are aware of the cost and network status of an air ambulance transport in a non-emergency situation. When you go to a hospital for an emergency, limits are put in place by negotiations between the hospital system and your insurance company to ensure out-of-pocket maximum costs and costs for services are agreed upon ahead of time. These new laws help to provide similar transparency and cost management for air ambulance transportation services. In 2017, Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan paid out more than $20 million in claims for air ambulance charges for members. It’s important to understand your insurance plan benefits and coverage details before an emergency arises. If you have questions about your plan, call the number on the back of your ID card or contact your Blue Cross Blue Shield of Michigan agent. If you found this post helpful, you might also enjoy:
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