The story of a shockingly-high medical transport bill is making news in middle America today.
And, like all these high air ambulance bill stories, it seems to cast the whole industry in an unwanted light.
WOWT in Nebraska reported that a patient was charged $25,000 US for a mere 46 mile transport in a medical helicopter.
At about $543 a mile, you can’t blame the patient’s husband for questioning whether it was necessary to transport her by helicopter. Nor can you blame him for thinking that clearly, there must have been a mistake on the bill.
These are stressful situations patients and their immediate families run into quite often. Because of the nature of emergency air transport for a critical-care patient, cost and need is often not discussed thoroughly beforehand.
This appears to be the case in this story, as the husband claims no one discussed the cost of the transport, nor its level of necessity, until after the bill arrived in the mailbox.
Obviously, we don’t have access to every detail in this particular case. There are certainly cases that occur where a ground transport might be an option for a critical care patient and yet a helicopter ambulance is called in anyway. We won’t have a good idea of what the options were for the patient until/unless more details are revealed later.
These unexpectedly high bills for short transports may work out fine for those who eventually receive the payment (however slow this receipt may be), but what effect does it have on the image of air ambulance transport as a whole?
Commenters on this story (presumably not associated with the aeromedical world) have said, in so many words, that trying to total up the costs of the transport gives the aeromedical transport industry the impression of a racket more than a lifesaving service.
When helicopter tours over American landmarks cost mere hundreds, even factoring in the salaries of the trained medical professionals on board, it’s sometimes difficult to see where these transport cost figures come from for patients and those not in the industry.
How does the harm to public perception of American air medical transport caused by cases like these affect all of us? Moreover, what can we do about this, with these types of stories being so frequent?