New Federal legislation concerns air ambulances

No Surprises Act prohibits additional out-of-network bills for air ambulances.

For Vashon Island Fire & Rescue EMT Brigitte Schran Brown, having medevac services on Vashon available is not a luxury, but rather “a necessity” for islanders.

Schran Brown has worked on cases that involved getting a pregnant mother on an Airlift NW flight from Vashon to a Harborview Medical Center operating room in less than 30 minutes.

But a life-saving flight can be astronomically expensive — over the years, many islanders have recounted receiving bills that range in the four to the five-figure range for their airlift flights to the mainland.

Now, as part of the No Surprises Act in the Consolidated Appropriations Act, 2021, additional out-of-network bills are prohibited for certain medical services, including air ambulances. This legislation went into effect as of Jan. 1.

Jeffrey Richey, Executive Director of Airlift NW, stated that the No Surprises Act would not impact operations going forward.

“We are still going to be servicing the entire WWAMI [Washington, Wyoming, Alaska, Montana and Idaho] region and Vashon Island with air medical services like we have done for 40 years,” Richey said in a phone interview.

With the new legislation in place, Airlift NW will still be able to bill patients’ insurance as they normally have, and patients will still be responsible for their deductible, explained Richey.

“We are in-network with most of our insurance or in talks with insurances that service the WWAMI region, so we’re constantly doing that as Airlift NW and UW Medicine,” Richey said.

For Medicare and Medicaid patients who are transported with Airlift NW, Medicare patients will have a deductible and Medicaid could possibly have a deductible, which is dependent on their plan.

Airlift NW offers a $60 yearly membership that covers an entire household. With a membership, a member’s insurance is billed and nothing is owed to Airlift NW after that.

“That is a good benefit for anyone that lives in the WWAMI region … and is on the island,” Richey said.

As part of UW Medicine, Airlift NW also works to provide robust financial assistance, as well as charitable care programs, and works with patients to make payments, said Richey.

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