Resolve to plan for the unexpected next year | Editorial

Most of us would say we enjoy living on Vashon but could also quickly list the sacrifices we’ve made to live on an island only accessible by ferry. Most of those sacrifices involve difficult access to off-island jobs, friends and family in the Seattle area and goods and services only found in the city. We also know some medical providers, specialists such as orthodontists or oncologists, require a ferry ride to get to. But we may not think, until we’re faced with a serious medical crisis, about when a ferry ride won’t cut it.

When it comes to living on an island, we’re lucky to be on and island in King County, home to a nationally recognized emergency medical response system called Medic One. According to Medic One statistics, a person who had a cardiac arrest in King County in 2013 had a 57 percent chance of survival, the highest in the country by far. Vashon has consistently boasted a similar cardiac survival rate, thanks to the Medic One system and the robust volunteer response program at Vashon Island Fire & Rescue (VIFR). We’re lucky to have quick and professional response to medical emergencies, and we’re fortunate the ferry system is quick to hold or reroute a boat when an ambulance needs to get on. But what about those times when islanders must get to a hospital even faster than the ferry allows?

For years, readers have asked us about helicopter airlifts off the island — how common they are, how much they cost and whether they’re covered by insurance. It’s not the most pleasant holiday topic, but we’ve examined it for the last issue of the year, and what we found may surprise you. Around 25 people are airlifted off the island for medical emergencies each year, and many are getting stuck with high bills — an airlift to a Seattle hospital can cost $18,000. We question whether the high bills truly reflect the cost of medevacking a patient from Vashon to Seattle, or simply the shockingly high costs of health care in our country. Either way, when people need to be flown off the island, their lives should be the first thing on their minds, not their bank accounts. This holiday season, we should be thankful to live in a place with access to good health care, but we should also make a resolution to plan for that medical emergency that no one hopes will occur. Especially if you or someone in your family is a senior citizen, find out whether your health insurance covers any portion of the cost of an airlift, and consider becoming a member of the airlift program that covers your entire household for a reasonable annual fee. We’re confident VIFR will save our lives if they can, but they can’t save our pocketbooks.

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