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Air medical services working to keep care available to rural patients in Colorado

Cite rural hospitals closing & low reimbursements
Posted at 4:30 PM, May 24, 2018
and last updated 2018-05-24 19:41:48-04

DENVER -- While we are seeing plenty of growth in and around the Denver metro, some rural areas in Colorado are having the opposite problem as some rural hospitals close their doors. It's making it harder for the people living in those areas to receive air medical services when there's an emergency.

"Air medical providers are filling the gap, making sure patients can get to the closest available and most appropriate health care facility quickly,” said Carter Johnson, spokesperson for Save Our Air Medical Resources (SOAR) Campaign.

SOAR is a national campaign dedicated to preserving access to emergency air medical services for Americans across the country.

Eighty-five million Americans live more than an hour away from a Level 1 or Level 2 trauma center. As rural hospitals close, it will take longer for emergency crews to get there. About 90 percent of people transported by air medical services are suffering from a traumatic injury or medical emergency, but the funding to pay for that care is up in the air.

"Medicare and Medicaid vastly under reimburse for the cost of the service,” said Johnson.

With the lack of reimbursement, patients are stuck footing an expensive bill. They at times receive little or no support from insurance providers because some insurers don’t include air medical providers in their networks.

Advocates for air medical services said two pieces need to fall into place in order for the system to work: Medicare reimbursement needs to be readjusted and updated, and private insurers need to help cover the cost.

Congress is currently considering legislation (H.R.3378 & S.2121) that would require insurance providers to submit their cost data and would address the Medicare reimbursement rate to be based on the cost of care.

Another piece of legislation proposed in Congress would limit air medical services from transporting over state borders. This would challenge the 30 percent of transports that happen across state borders currently.

The cost of air medic services depends on a few factors, including where a person lives, the call volume in the particular area, the payer mix and what care one receives in flight.