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Sha'Ron James

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Emergency air medical services must be preserved, protected


Date: October 20, 2016
Source: Tallahassee Democrat
Author:  Amanda Thayer


It was with a deep sense of regret that everyone in the air ambulance service community learned that LifeFlight Tallahassee had shuttered its main base of operations.

We feel for the employees whose livelihoods are being disrupted. But there is a greater issue at stake: Countless lives could be put at risk from the loss of an important medical service.

Air medical transport services take our mission of providing emergency assistance seriously. No provider wants to close a base, in Florida or anywhere. Our mission is to serve communities, not leave them.

In the wake of base closures like the one in Tallahassee, the stories that emerge – about loved ones saved and heroic rescues carried out by pilots and crews –underscore just how much communities rely on this service.

Unfortunately, the reality is that our services come at significant cost. In the current environment, the LifeFlight air base in Gadsden County cannot survive because of drastically low reimbursement rates paid by Medicare and Medicaid.

For the safety of the public, this is a situation that must change.

To operate a base that stands ready to deploy 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year costs roughly $3 million annually. About 70 percent of patients being transported by these air services rely on Medicare, Medicaid or some other government insurance coverage – or they are entirely uninsured. This means providers are being under-reimbursed on seven out of 10 transports. It doesn’t take long to see that this is unsustainable.

Some 90 percent of patients who use air medical services are transported after suffering a serious cardiac event, stroke or trauma.More than 85 million Americans live more than an hour by ambulance from a Level 1 or 2 trauma center, and without air medical transport service they have no way to get there during the all-important “golden hour” that can save their lives.

Since 1990, almost one in four rural hospitals have closed – one per month since 2010 – and hundreds more are on the brink of closure. As a result, patients must travel farther to get emergency care.

Save Our Air Medical Resources (SOAR) is a national campaign dedicated to preserving access to emergency air medical services for Americans across the country.

First, the problem of drastically low reimbursements from Medicare and Medicaid must be fixed. Our campaign strongly supports proposed federal legislation that would resolve the Medicare reimbursement shortfall by updating reimbursement rates.

Second, insurance companies must be willing to negotiate and begin reimbursing for air medical transport services at a reasonable rate, taking patients out of the middle of the balance billing process.

As the LifeFlight experience shows, no community can take for granted that a vital, life-sustaining service will always be there when needed. The two common-sense changes mentioned above would make a tremendous difference in safeguarding the lives of citizens in the Tallahassee community and across the country.