With Kaiser Permanente denying claims for emergency air ambulance services, it’s a good time to consider your options in advance of needing to be flown off.
Living on the San Juans means it is imperative to have a membership with both Island Air Ambulance and AirLift Northwest. The two separate airlift providers require their own membership fees to allow for coverage.
You never know which will available or able to fly in the weather conditions at the time of your emergency. AirLift Northwest uses a helicopter and Island Air Ambulance uses a fixed-wing aircraft.
However, in the fine print of both services is a note that if your insurance – which you must have for the membership to be applicable anyway – denies the transport, you may be (more than likely will be) responsible for the bill.
The memberships purchased through the two airlift services are essentially a supplement to your existing insurance, with the companies waiving member responsibility and billing only the insurance. But if the insurance doesn’t pay? The bill comes to you.
Kaiser Permanente – the only provider of individual insurance in San Juan County and one of two options available for county employees – is not accepting claims for air ambulance rides because of a policy that disregards the unique geography of the San Juan Islands.
It is irresponsible of Kaiser Permanente to categorically deny these services as not being medically necessary.
In the vast majority of the country, there are roads for ground-service ambulances to get you from point A to point B in an emergency. The need for airlift elsewhere is typically known far in advance and preauthorization is something that can be acquired without much difficulty.
On an island, however, that isn’t usually the case. When an emergency requires one of the air ambulance services to be called in, it is unrealistic for EMS to contact the patient’s insurance for preauthorization. EMTs have their hands full keeping a patient stable, and the last thing on their mind is whether or not insurance will allow a flight that has been deemed medically necessary.
Patients and their loved ones must make a very difficult decision if they have to choose between urgent medical care that saddles them with a massive price tag or waiting to catch a ferry and losing precious, life-saving hours.
We encourage all insured residents to have both air ambulance memberships, but be aware that having those in place does not guarantee a med flight is financially covered.
We hope the board of health can resolve Kaiser Permanente’s policy issues on this matter as soon as possible. It is truly a matter of life and death.