Jenkins and Whitesburg residents who have health insurance will not face out-of-pocket expenses for emergency medical helicopter flights under an agreement the two cities have reached with Wings Air Rescue.
“Of all the services a city can offer, this one makes more sense than any because this one can save lives,” Jenkins Mayor G.C. Kincer said of the agreement with Wings that calls for insured patients to get free air transportation to a level I trauma center. “The council was very much supportive of this.”
Jenkins and Whitesburg will be the first two cities in Kentucky to activate a “municipal site plan,” said Jason Monday, Wings Air Rescue membership sales manager.
“If you are a city resident and you are having to be transported by us or any of our providers in our network … you are going to be covered,” said Monday. “The benefits apply.”
At a cost of $8,995, the Whitesburg City Council has entered into a one-year contract with AirMedCare Network. The Jenkins City Council has approved paying $10,600 for a one-year municipal site plan.
A city’s fee varies depending on size, population, number of insured residents, flights coming out of the city and number of households provided coverage. Other factors include number of residents on Medicaid and Medicare.
Whitesburg has a population of 2,139 and the household count is 1,005. Jenkins has a population of 2,203 and 1,035 households.
For members of the municipal site plan who have insurance, the patient’s insurance company will be billed. Monday said the amount the insurance company agrees to pay is considered payment in full.
“For example, if we flew you, and let’s say the flight was $20,000 and your insurance said they were going to be very generous and pay half the cost of that, you’d be susceptible to a balance billing of the remaining $10,000,” explained Monday. “If you are a member of our network program, you are not going to pay anything out of pocket. So if your insurance pays $ 10,000, that is going to be considered payment in full. If your insurance paid $1,000 toward a flight, that is going to be considered payment in full.”
Jenkins and Whitesburg residents who are uninsured at the time of the flight will be sent a reduced bill at the Medicare-allowable rate. If uninsured residents choose to pay $35 a year and upgrade to the full coverage plan, they won’t pay outof pocket expenses should they ever need to be transported to a medical facility by helicopter.
Letcher County residents who don’t live in Jenkins and Whitesburg can purchase a full coverage plan for $65 a year.
The plan applies to anyone who lives in the household. It is valid for unlimited flights by the network providers. The prepaid program is designed to eliminate or significantly reduce out-ofpocket expenses, Monday said.
“It’s important to note that it is not insurance,” said Monday. “It is not supplemental insurance. It is specifically a membership program. And with that it made it much simpler than an insurance policy because we don’t have co-pays. We don’t have deductibles.”
Health screenings are not required for members of the municipal site plan because, Monday said, many of the program’s members already have previously existing health conditions that increase the odds that they’ll need a medical flight someday.
The limited plan includes an “assumption care clause.” If a patient listed in stable condition is being transported from Letcher County by ambulance and the patient takes a downhill spiral along the route in another county, Wings Air Rescue will be notified.
“ We are still going to provide that coverage there,” said Monday.
If several people are injured, multiple aircrafts can be sitting on a landing zone in this region within an hour, he said.
The people that provide the bulk of the funding for Wings Air Rescue are nonmembers of the AirMed- Care Network who pay the full bill for flights.
“A lot of people don’t realize it until it has happened,” said Monday. “You typically don’t know that you are going to be flown well in advance. It is a surprise a lot of times. Some of them don’t even know that they were flown until a week after when they wake up.”
The municipal site plan helps patients avoid large flight bills while keeping Wings Air Rescue operational, said Monday.
“What we are trying to do is extend an opportunity to them and let them know that there is another way to do this that helps us, solidifies our future, allows us to continue saving lives in these rural communities and at the same time lets them enjoy a financial benefit if the service is ever needed,” he said.
The limited municipal site plan covers medical flights departing from Letcher County. Jenkins and Whitesburg residents who upgrade to the full coverage membership plan by paying $35 a year won’t have to pay out-of-pocket costs if they need a helicopter flight while traveling outside Letcher County.
“It’s a bargain on top of a bargain,” said Whitesburg Mayor James W. Craft. “It’s a great plan particularly with people traveling as much as they do. It’s well worth all of the money including the $8,995 we have to pay.”
The AirMedCare Network, which is the largest ambulance membership network program, consists of Med-Trans Air Medical Transport, Air Evac Life- Team, REACH Air Medical and EagleMed. Air ambulances that are a part of the AirMedCare Network are located in more than 200 locations in 28 states. The AirMedCare Network boasts 1.5 million members.
The Wings III base opened at the Gateway Industrial Park in Jenkins seven years ago. Will Fritz, base leader of Wings III and a flight paramedic, said the Jenkins base is the busiest of the four Wings bases. Wings III had 246 flight requests in 2013 and 253 flight requests in 2012. The other Wings bases in Elizabethton, Tenn., Greeneville, Tenn., and Marion, Va., assist Wings III with flight requests.
Whitesburg Appalachian Regional Hospital is the largest customer of Wings.
“We fly more patients from Whitesburg ARH hospital than we do anywhere else,” said Fritz.
Patients are transported from the Whitesburg hospital to Hazard ARH, Pikeville Medical Center and the University of Kentucky Medical Center.
More than 20,000 lives have been saved during Wings Air Rescue’s 18-year history, Monday said.
Persons interested in learning more about AirMedCare’s full coverage plan may call Jason Monday at (423) 444-1853.