Sara Gordon and Darren Brown recently offered insight into AirMedCare, an alliance of affiliated air ambulance providers.
Gordon is the area director and oversees 14 sales managers across seven states. Brown is the sales manager for the Lakeway Area.
“Basically, it’s a membership program,” Brown said. “If anything were to ever happen to you or anyone in your home and you have to be airlifted, you’ll never pay a penny out of your pocket. Whatever your insurance doesn’t cover, we cover. And if your insurance totally denies it, we pay 100%.”
Air flights out of the Lakeway Area are typically made either to the Knoxville or Tri-cities areas. The cost of a typical flight can total tens of thousands of dollars — and the national average out-of-pocket cost is $18,000.
“Insurance companies have what they call ‘customized allowable amounts,’ which is where they stop paying. And that gap is where people run into an issue where they get a balance bill. So that’s what this program seeks to prevent,” Gordon said.
During an emergency, the last thing an individual is thinking about is the cost.
“The guys on the aircraft are trying to save your life; we’re trying to save your pocketbook, Brown said. “It’s just something that no-one thinks will ever happen to them, and when it does, you can’t plan for trauma. When it happens, it’s like a snap of the fingers and you’re stuck trying to figure out how to come up with tens of thousands of dollars when we have a clear solution to that problem. You don’t have to worry. You can have the peace of mind that you’ll never pay a penny for an air transfer flight. It’s really cut and dry.”
No one really enjoys reading the terms and conditions section of a pamphlet, but in the case of AirMedCare, information included in No. 3 on the list is especially important: “In return for payment of the membership fee, the AMCN provider will consider its air ambulance costs that are not covered by any insurance, benefits or third party responsibility available to the member to have been fully prepaid.”
The program covers air ambulance provides including UT LifeStar, which has five aircraft, and Wings Air Rescue, which has four. AirMedCare covers 38 states, with 320 locations. To be covered, an individual must be flown by an AirMedCare asset.
“With the 320 aircraft we have, we do have nationwide coverage,” Gordon said. “So, if people are traveling, we can cover them. We don’t cover every single state, but we are getting close. And we are the largest provider of air medical in the country. As far as coverage, we have the most aircraft of any provider. And that’s with our partners like UT and our hybrid models and lots of brands across the nation. You do have really, really good coverage as you travel. Each aircraft has 100 to 150 nautical miles around them that they serve.”
“I’ve also found that Air Evac Lifeteam flies down out of Kentucky four us; Erlinger Lifeforce is in our network, as well. We’re going to take you where you need to go, wherever your condition warrants,” Brown said.
The procedure is simple. After 911 is called, a dispatcher will notify the base, and an air ambulance team will go into standby mode.
“First responders arrive on the scene; they make the call as to whether an air ambulance is required,” Brown said. “We fly members and non-members alike. Not being a member doesn’t exclude you from the air ambulance services. We work in partnership with UT. We take care of all the flight stuff; they employ the shock trauma nurse and the paramedic. UT handles the medical side of it; we take care of the aircraft.”
Brown has been visiting counties within the Lakeway Area to get the word out about the low cost of membership. A one-year membership is $85. For seniors, the cost drops to $65 per year. The coverage applies to everyone who lives at the member’s house, and they do not have to be relatives of the member. A one-time payment of $765 will cover a home for 10 years. If there is a senior in the home, it drops to $575 per home.
“I’ve worked hard in these communities setting up what we call affinity agreements with the local Chambers of Commerce, so that anyone who works for a Chamber member receives the senior discount,” Brown said.
“A lot of people don’t realize when a trauma situation occurs, you’ve got to get to a trauma center, he said. And the closest one is either Knoxville or Johnson Center. We only fly to Level I or Level II centers. It’s not at the forefront of their minds: car wreck, stroke – you never plan for it.
“The biggest cause of flight is falling,” Gordon said. “A lot of people don’t realize that. You don’t have to be old and sick to fall. You can get burned, it’s a variety of things. Unfortunately, none of us are immune to situation.”
People are often unaware of their actual insurance coverage for situations like this.
“The biggest misconception is that people with regular insurance will pay for a medical flight,” Brown said. “That’s a big misconception.”
“We don’t want to negatively impact someone who the crew has just saved,” he said. “With our membership, people can take it or leave it, but the goal we have is that we at least want to get the information to them, so they can make an educated decision. Sometimes they want to call their insurance and check. We just don’t want people after the fact going, ‘Man, I didn’t know how much this was’ and then, all of a sudden, they’re impacted.”
The cost of air medical flights includes maintenance and staffing a paramedic and flight nurse on each trip. The aircraft are also stocked with blood, plasma and essential equipment. Each aircraft is staffed 24 hours a day, 365 days per year. The only delays are caused by maintenance or the weather. For every hour of flight, there are four hours of maintenance required.
“We take very good care of the aircraft. Safety is our main concern, of our flight crew and the patient,” Brown said. “Our guys are the best of the best. We take pride in our employees.”
Gordon spends a great deal of time en route from one AirMedCare area to the next.
“My focus is managing the team,” she said. “There are 14 employees: hiring and training and getting them set up. Obviously, I can’t be there every day, so they are in charge of their region. They manage that group of counties. We like to have a sales manager who lives in the area, because we want them to be a part of their community.”
Brown moved to the Lakeway Area from Missouri in July 2018.
“I made the move specifically for this,” he said. “I came from the Ozark Mountains; I miss my fishing,” he said. “I stay so busy with this, because it’s such important information to get out. That’s how life is. Nobody knows. Things can change in an instant. We’ve been doing memberships since 1985 and we’ve got close to 3.5 million members. So, we’re not a new company. We’re established. In the past five years, we’ve doubled our number of aircraft. We have fixed wing, as well: ICU-equipped jets. If you need an emergent organ transplant; we’ll take you to that as well.”
Household members do not have to be dependents. They are not required to be family members. One membership covers the entire household, regardless of relation. This includes children who are attending college and shared custody situations.
“We figure if you like them enough to let them live with you, we’ll cover them, Gordon said.
Brown will participate in upcoming community events, including Heroes Day on May 11 at Jefferson City Tractor Supply, during which aircraft from Lifestar and Wings will make appearances.
“I’m the helicopter guy,” he said.
Brown can be reached at 828-541-9383 or by visiting wwwamcnrep.com/Darren-brown. The website has an interactive map that shows all the aircraft bases and which aircraft cover local areas.