Patients will get new info on medical helicopter trips under new law

A medical helicopter takes off from Stafford Hospital in this file photo. 

The larger fight over healthcare reform has as much to do with information as it does with access to treatment.

A new state law that goes into effect March 1 will inform consumers of their options and possible cost of being transported by an air ambulance during a non-emergency medical situation.

A federal investigation found that the average price charged for helicopter air ambulance service doubled between 2010 and 2014, climbing from around $15,000 to about $30,000.

Constituents have complained of bills as high as $45,000 for being transported via air ambulance, usually a helicopter, said state Sen. Jeremy McPike, D-29th District.

The law aims to provide patients in non-emergency situations or their designated representative with important information before they are transported by air ambulance.

“We need to start to really build a format that helps inform consumers and ask the doctors ‘What is this going to cost?’” he said.

The law will require hospitals or other health care providers to inform patients in non-emergency situations that they have an option between air ambulance and ground ambulance. The patient must sign the notice, which will also inform patients they will be responsible for charges incurred if the air ambulance provider is not in their health insurance plan network.

Finally, the notice will provide patients with an estimate of the range of charges for out-of-network air ambulance transport in the area. The law directed the Office of Emergency Medical Services with the Virginia Department of Health to develop a process for disclosing cost estimates by Jan. 1.

When air transportation service providers don’t have contracts with hospitals, patients can be surprised with a huge bill, McPike said, adding that pricing transparency is important in non-emergency situations where the patient can choose ground ambulance or can request a list of in-network air ambulance providers.

“[The law] gets the discussion going so [patients] can understand the costs involved and what alternatives are available to them,” McPike said.

A spokesperson for PHI Air Medical, a national company that has helicopter bases in Manassas and Fredericksburg, said in a statement that alignment among healthcare systems in the state will help ensure the company can provide lifesaving care to patients when needed. The national company serves 30,000 patients annually out of 65 bases nationwide, according to its website. The company says it has a crew of pilots, nurses and communications specialists at each base.

“Our commitment to providing the safest, highest level of care will never waver,” the company’s statement read. “We are called to transport and care for patients in significant need. These patients are flown because a physician or EMS professional has determined that it is medically necessary. We have a legal obligation to respond in these situations, without knowing of a patient’s ability to pay. Our primary concern in these moments is the safe transport and critical care for the patient in need.”

The new law is based on Senate Bill 668 introduced by McPike and House Bill 778, which was introduced by Del. Margaret Ransone, R-99th District, and Del. Robert Orrock Sr., R-54th District.

In 2017, Ransone introduced House Bill 1728, which was passed and directed the state department of health to create a work group to study the regulations, dispatch and billing procedures of air ambulance transportation services in the state and make recommendations by Dec. 1, 2017.

The report noted that federal law — specifically the Airline Deregulation Act enacted in 1978 — means the federal government cannot regulate the airline industry’s fares or routes, among other things. That also means states cannot regulate the price, route or service of the airline industry, including medical air transportation, according to the group’s report.

The group reported that there were 7,815 air medical transports in Virginia in 2016. Of that number, 66 percent were flights between facilities and 34 percent were flights from a scene.

Doug Gray, executive director for the Virginia Association of Health Plans, said he’s hopeful this new law will help consumers.

“It may be that some of them choose not to take the transportation offered to them and do something else that works for them,” he said. “They may find out that the transportation they were offered is not the best option for them, because it’s not in network.”

It’s not reasonable to fly someone between medical facilities without informing them of a potential $30,000 to $40,000 bill, said Gray.

The new law is a “good start” to protect and inform consumers so “they can decide for themselves what they want to do,” he said.

He stressed that the law applies to nonemergency situations.

“It’s a good start in helping people to at least have an opportunity to have some control over what happens to them when it’s not an emergency situation,” he said.

(4) comments


Beware anytime the government says it need your signature to improve your life for you.

One of the more recent federally mandated improvements to your healthcare is the CMS Medicare program. The way it works is that your doctor receives an average of $160.00 per month to make a 5 minute (or less) phone call that asks you, "How are you doing these days?" The federal wizards that invented the CMS Medicare program say that this insures you that your doctor is giving you the right best care possible.

The average general practitioner sees about 300 - 350 patients per month. 300 (or so) times 160 equals about $50,000 per month easy income. You want to piss your friendly family doctor off fast? Say, "No I don't want to sign the form and participate in the CMS Medicare program."

At that point not only have your denied your doctor income but if he or she is in a hospital administrated partnership mode of operation then they are going to pound on his or her noggin for failing to achieve 100% patients participation.

* Incidentally it appears that participation in the CMS Medicare program can inadvertently deny or even cancel other

government managed programs you might have!

These new federal laws always begin with this is to protect and inform consumers so that they can decide for themselves what they want to do or similar, "And you can keep your doctor if you want to." remember?

So now the good doctor, your doctor says you need to be taken to another hospital for treatment and he or she "prefers" you be transported by an Air Ambulance service.

According to this article in Virginia in 2016 there were 66 percent of 7,815 air medical transports at an average of $30,000 each which equals about $154,740,000.00 total.
That is a huge chunk of change.

Your doctor might play weekend golf with the CEO of the Air Ambulance medical transport company. Go ahead and say no to signing anything.

Do you think that it might be a good idea to get all your things in order for your family first?


Although I am not a fan of a lot of Govt regulation, it is high time to enact it for these outrageous helicopter transports. No way that the $30,000 - 40,000 fee is justified. When the private sector is unregulated, then those companies become thieves.


You have the right church but the wrong pew.

The private sector is already super-regulated by high taxes, excessive regulations, tariffs, restrictions, multiple agencies and anything else that bureaucrats come up with that supposedly "fixes" the problem; whatever it happens to be.

The action equal reaction result is always the same thing; higher prices for the consumers because that is the only possible way a private sector enterprise can survive today.

If the bulk of all the government's fixing things were removed from our private sector so that free market capitalism is able to function normally I will guarantee you that Air Ambulance medical care "competition" would end up with prices that are much, much lower than they are now.

Why isn't this happening?

Figure out why voters keep on electing clowns that have no clue what to do; or more likely than not see the increasing desperation of their constituents as a "cool" way to put more profit and power into their own wallets. The longer they can keep their constituents "locked into" the dirty little game the better it is.

It took many decades of International Socialistic engineering to bring America to point we are now as far as being, "A government of the people, by the people, for the people".

These things considered who are the real thieves in the mix?


I fly with a medical helicopter team. There are valid points to this proposed law but some things to consider as a consumer. First, if opting for ground transport, who will be taking you or your loved one? Local EMS? Are they trained in caring for an acutely ill patient for potentially hours ? The ground transport time can be lengthy especially in rural areas and I'm poor weather. Second, who is in charge of the ground transport team while en route to larger medical center? Often it is the ER physician and he / she may not want to take on that responsibility with good reason. Does the ground EMS have the equipment needed for a specialized patient? And perhaps most important, is if "fair" to make a family member or I'll person make a decision of this magnitude? In am already stressful situation? Does the lay person know the questions to ask? What guilt is one going to carry if a loved one dies during a ground transport that could've been done faster via air? Even a "simple" leg fracture is quite painful and have adverse complications.... Do you want to be in a ground ambulance for hours bouncing around? Again, I don't want anyone to not afford health care. And I don't want to waste money or resources. But this is a very complicated situation that needs to be thought through.

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