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What is Air Ambulance Insurance?

Do you need specialized insurance for air ambulance services? Let’s discuss your options.


Published on December 7th, 2023 in Medical Evacuation, Travel Insurance

Flying in an airplane makes some people anxious. Flying in an airplane while your life is in danger due to a medical emergency makes everyone anxious.

And apart from the flight itself, the next thing an air ambulance patient has to worry about is the cost of the service. This is where air ambulance insurance coverage, and other services like travel assistance, can come into play to mitigate the cost.

In this post we’re going to cover the basics of air ambulances, discuss the different types of insurance and related services that affect your costs and coverage, and answer a wide range of frequently asked questions on the topic.

Let’s go!

What is an air ambulance?

An air ambulance is a specialized medical transport service (typically an airplane or helicopter) used when a ground ambulance cannot reach a patient in time, the distance to the medical facility is great, or air transport is more appropriate. These types of aircraft are equipped with advanced medical equipment and typically staffed by paramedics, emergency medical technicians, or doctors and nurses. Air ambulances are primarily used to transport patients with severe injuries, complications during pregnancy, heart attacks, strokes, or respiratory illnesses.

Related reading: Need a Medical Evacuation? Here’s What to Expect.

According to the Association of Air Medical Services, over 550,000 patients in the U.S. use air ambulances every year. However, it’s important to note that the cost of using air ambulances can be high and may not always be covered by health insurance.

Why is it important to understand air ambulance insurance?

Time is of the essence in critical medical emergencies, and patients often cannot negotiate prices or refuse transportation when urgent medical care is required. Deciding against using an air ambulance can be challenging when trained medical professionals determine it as a medical necessity.

While many insurance companies will cover what they consider a reasonable use of an air ambulance, disputes over costs between the air ambulance company and the insurer can arise. Depending on the circumstances, the patient may be responsible for the remaining bill, which can run into thousands—or tens of thousands—of dollars.

Medicare may cover air ambulance services in cases where ground transportation is inadequate for immediate transport, but it may not provide coverage for medical emergencies that require transportation outside the U.S.

How much does an air ambulance flight cost?

The cost of an air ambulance trip can range between $12,000 to $200,000 per flight. This cost takes into account various factors, including the initial expense of the aircraft (sometimes as much $6 million) as well as the cost of medical equipment and maintenance. Additionally, the round-the-clock availability of qualified medical personnel and pilots adds to the overall price, as does the number and type of medical staff required based on the severity of the patient’s condition.

In cases of medical emergencies abroad, the cost of evacuating a patient back to the U.S. can reach six figures. See our detailed post on the cost of life flight services for more info.

Will health insurance pay for air ambulance services?

Before delving into this matter, it’s essential to note that health insurance plans can vary widely—this makes it crucial to consult with your insurance company to find out the exact coverage for medical flight services. Nevertheless, there are a few key factors to consider.

The primary determinant of whether life flight services will be covered by your health insurance is whether they are deemed “medically necessary.” However, the interpretation of this term is at the discretion of your insurance company.

For instance, if an individual experiences a severe medical emergency and is admitted to a medical facility capable of providing adequate treatment but opts for medical flight services to return to their preferred hospital, the flight might be considered “unnecessary” since treatment could have been administered on-site.

The good news is that if your health plan does cover air ambulance services, your out-of-pocket expenses may be limited to copays and your insurance coverage’s out-of-pocket maximums, again, assuming the air ambulance is in-network and deemed “medically necessary.”

Nonetheless, statistics from the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC) reveal that 50-69% of air ambulance flights are out-of-network. Consequently, this can result in significant out-of-pocket expenses, even with insurance, potentially amounting to thousands of dollars.

Numerous instances have emerged involving disputes between insurance companies and their policyholders over unexpected bills related to life flights.

What does air ambulance insurance cover?

The coverage provided by air ambulance insurance can vary, so it’s essential to consult your insurance agent to understand your policy. Typically, air ambulance insurance covers the medical care needed during transportation, such as oxygen or life support. Some policies also include the cost of transportation to and from the aircraft, known as “bedside-to-bedside” service. Additionally, this service often covers the expenses for family members or other passengers accompanying the patient.

However, it’s important to note that coverage may be limited to a certain distance from an airstrip or airport, and some policies may only apply to specific types of aircraft depending on the nature of the medical emergency.

What are your options for air ambulance protection?

Now that you know the full landscape of air ambulance, here are three different options for protecting yourself. Your decision will be based largely on your lifestyle and your risk tolerance.

1. Stick with your current health insurance or Medicare

As we mentioned earlier, your current health insurance policy may provide financial assistance in the event you require an air ambulance. If your existing coverage is insufficient, you can try discussing the option of purchasing additional air ambulance coverage with your insurance company.

For people who do not travel much, have a medium degree of risk tolerance, and don’t want to incur additional costs, this might be the best option.

As noted earlier in this post, however, insurance companies will do everything possible to avoid paying out during the claims process.

2. Purchase a specific air ambulance plan

There are several companies who specialize in air ambulance services. AirMed International, for example, provides air ambulance services whether you’re traveling or at home. Note that if you need air ambulance services while traveling outside the country, there are certain rules you’ll need to review to make sure an AirMed International plan fits for your needs.

3. Enroll in a travel assistance membership

If your concerns for air ambulance services revolve mainly around travel, there may be a better option for you. With a travel assistance membership from Emergency Assistance Plus (EA+), you can protect you and your family with best-in-class air ambulance services for a low annual membership fee.

EA+ has over 27 years experience and specializes in emergency medical evacuations, from domestic to international medical emergencies. EA+ also provides more than just emergency medical evacuation, it also includes a host of other services, such as transportation back home after an accident or illness while traveling. Another key aspect of the protection from EA+ is that it’s not cost reimbursement—meaning you don’t pay first then submit receipts later. If your emergency requires an air ambulance, all you have to do is call the team of experts at EA+ (24/7/365) and we’ll take care of all your transportation arrangements and costs DURING your emergency!

To see a full list of what’s included with a travel assistance membership from EA+, take a look at our membership details or give us a call at (866) 863-4460.

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Emergency Assistance Plus® (EA+®) is not insurance, it is a membership plan. This is only an outline of the plan’s features. Hospitalization (admitted as an inpatient) is a requirement to be eligible for some services. All services must be arranged and provided by EA+. Please read the EA+ Member Guide carefully to understand all the services available to you, as well as any rules and regulations. EA+ is only available to U.S. residents at this time and is not available to residents of New York. Washington state residents must be traveling more than 100 miles away from home to be eligible for EA+ services.