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Insight Denton: I received an offer from an air ambulance company. How do I let others know they would be my preferred provider?

In an emergency, you likely won’t be in a position to choose your provider, experts say.  

Membership with an air ambulance service does not function like a traditional insurance plan. If another provider transports you in an emergency, your membership won’t help. Moreover, health insurance companies typically cap how much they will pay for ambulance service. And that list of network providers with your health insurance? You probably won’t find any air ambulance companies there to guide your decision-making.

The Consumers Union, the long-running nonprofit that publishes the well-known Consumer Reports magazine and website, recently issued a bulletin on emerging issues with commercial air ambulance service.

Before 2002, most air ambulances were owned by hospitals. After Medicare negotiated private fee reimbursements, the commercial air ambulance industry ballooned. 

Researchers have found that air transport has improved survival rates for some trauma patients. In rural areas where hospitals have closed, air transport can also provide a life-saving link to emergency care.

However, other research has found that air ambulances are sometimes dispatched unnecessarily.

When that happens, insurers often deny coverage and patients get billed directly. That has led to consumer complaints.

The Consumers Union looked for good data to determine whether the rates charged by commercial air ambulances are fair, appropriate and justified. But they found that no governmental body appears to have such data. Some states have tried to regulate the industry in response to consumer complaints, but those regulations are moving slowly in the face of court cases.

Source: Consumers Union bulletin, April 2017.

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