Nev. county air ambulance membership ends due to pandemic

Officials said the organization that paid for the membership, which provided no-cost air ambulance services to Elko County residents, lost its funding due to the pandemic


Nathan Havenner
Elko Daily Free Press, Nev.

ELKO COUNTY, Nev. — The safety net that has been in place for Elko County residents thanks to a no-cost air ambulance service membership plan has been canceled due to coronavirus.

Jared Sherman, Global Medical Response vice president of Operations in Northwest Nevada, said the AirMedCare Network plan purchased for Elko County has expired until further notice.

“Ultimately, when COVID-19 gripped the nation and northern Nevada, funding opportunities to keep the membership in place became unattainable,” Sherman said in the statement.

County Manager Rob Stokes said Friday that in order for an air-ambulance service to donate these county memberships, another organization must pay for it due to federal regulations.

“With both of the air ambulance services here, for the last few years they have had free memberships that they have given to all residents,” Stokes said. “My understanding is that their nonprofit in this case lost its funding due to restrictions due to COVID-19,” he said.

Stokes said it is not unusual for areas that utilize air-ambulance services to provide memberships that eliminate copays and fees not covered by an individual’s private insurance plan.

Sherman said in the statement that in Elko County, the ANCM plan covered residents if they were flown from Elko by a REACH Air Medical air ambulance, which services residents in Elko County, White Pine County and Reno.

While the county-wide membership plan is no longer in effect, residents can purchase individual memberships, which start at $65 per year and cover an entire household, Sherman said.

According to the statement, AirMedCare Network members will have no out-of-pocket expenses when flown for a life-threatening medical injury or illness. AMCN currently features more than 320 air-medical locations throughout 38 states. The coverage is valid regardless of where a flight originates.

Sherman said REACH Air Medical is a Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services compliant organization and also features compassionate billing practices.

The Elko Daily reported in February 2019 that the AirMedCare Network would be providing air medical transport services memberships to all permanent residents of Elko and White Pine County. The membership was paid for through a donation by the Nevada Emergency Services Preparation and Access Fund, a nonprofit group with a mission to serve the citizens of rural Nevada with better equipped hospital services.

According to a March 2019 report by the Government Accountability Office, “patients transported by air ambulance providers outside of their insurers’ provider network are at financial risk for balance bills.” These balance bills are due in addition to copayments or other types of cost-sharing typically paid by patients.

Data collected by the GAO of air transports of privately insured patients shows “69 percent of about 20,700 transports in the data set were out-of-network in 2017,” which is higher than data collected from ground ambulance services and other emergency services.

“While out-of-network transports may result in balance billing, the data GAO analyzed do not indicate the extent to which patients received balance bills and, if so, the size of the bills,” the report said.

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©2020 Elko Daily Free Press, Nev.

McClatchy-Tribune News Service

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