We provide access to these lifesaving services for the more than 70,000 Monroe County residents, and the many tourists visiting the Florida Keys. It is not uncommon for both LifeNet and the County-run Trauma Star helicopters to be in use at the same time. This is why it’s so important to maintain a second air ambulance service.
LifeNet Key West only responds to the critically ill or seriously injured. The majority of patients we fly have injuries suffered from a trauma, like a car crash or severe burn, or they are having a cardiovascular emergency, like a heart attack or stroke. The greatest risk from trauma is loss of blood, but fortunately, we are the only air medical provider in Monroe County to fly with blood and plasma in case our patients require it. In addition, we have more than 48 bases across the United States carrying lifesaving blood on every flight.
The pilots, medics, and maintenance crew for LifeNet, along with its parent company, Air Methods, would like to continue providing high-quality, emergency air ambulance services to the residents and visitors of Monroe County. While we are committed to staying in Monroe County, we also listened to the billing concerns posed by the citizens. The proposal would take the burden off of you, Key West residents, while keeping the same high quality LifeNet critical care access that exists today. We are awaiting a decision from the County Commission regarding a proposal for LifeNet to stay in the Keys. So the decision rests with the Commission.
For now, LifeNet is still operating in the Florida Keys, and if Trauma Star’s aircraft are in use or undergoing scheduled or unscheduled maintenance, LifeNet is called to the scene or to transfer a patient from one facility to another more appropriate facility. If the County does not approve LifeNet’s proposal, and we are forced to leave Monroe County, then Trauma Star’s 1982 and 2002 Sirkorsky S-76 helicopters will be the only options for residents and visitors.
As can be imagined, there is a real cost to operating an always-ready air medical base. LifeNet Key West invests $4 million annually to operate a base in Monroe County, and this includes aircraft and facilities, and our competitive salaries and benefits for our flight nurses, flight medics, EMS pilots, mechanics and other support.
In addition, emergency air medical service providers are being squeezed by drastically low government reimbursement rates and some insurers who refuse to negotiate in good faith. More than 70% of LifeNet Key West transports are reimbursed by either Medicare, Medicaid, other government sponsored insurance, or are uninsured. Those reimbursement rates are dramatically below our costs.
The solutions to this industry-wide issue are two-fold: First and foremost, the drastically low reimbursements from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services must be fixed. We strongly support the proposed federal legislation that would resolve the Medicare reimbursement shortfall by updating reimbursement rates. Second, insurance companies must be willing to negotiate and start to reimburse for air medical transport services at a reasonable rate.
However, in Monroe County, we propose a more immediate solution, which will remove the billing burden placed on patients whose lives and/or limbs are on the line.
The reality is: LifeNet’s fees are competitive with the other commercial air ambulance services. However, Trauma Star is publicly subsidized, while LifeNet currently does not receive any public subsidy, and therefore by law cannot routinely waive patients’ copayments, deductibles, or the unreimbursed portion of their fees. Under LifeNet’s proposal, neither program will need to bill residents of the Florida Keys for charges not covered by insurance.
LifeNet proposed a cost-sharing agreement with the County that would eliminate the need for LifeNet to collect out-of-pocket costs from residents. The proposal asks for a $400,000 annual subsidy payment to LifeNet, which translates to 44 cents per resident, per month. For Key West residents who spend summer months in other states, LifeNet’s proposal will provide them with the security of knowing that if they are transported via an Air Methods air ambulance, there is no additional cost.
Both LifeNet and Trauma Star bill patients’ insurance as well as Medicare and Medicaid for reimbursement. These payers provide the majority of revenue to both air ambulance services.
Routinely waiving patient co-payments, deductibles, and unreimbursed fees is prohibited for all healthcare providers, unless the provider is subsidized for those fees. Trauma Star’s operating costs are subsidized by public funds, so it can waive the patients’ share of the cost. Under LifeNet’s proposal, it will likewise have a portion of its operating costs subsidized, so it too can waive patients’ share of the costs for 44 cents per month, per resident. In addition, for Key West residents who spend summer months in other states, LifeNet’s proposal will provide them with the security of knowing that if they are transported via an Air Methods air ambulance, there is no additional cost.
Our lease at Lower Keys Medical Center may not be renewed to make room for the County’s recently-purchased helicopter. That means LifeNet will need to find a new base in the Florida Keys from where it can operate. However, the reality is, LifeNet Key West needs to resolve the billing situation for Monroe County residents, and this proposal will do just that.
Right now, Monroe County has the benefit of receiving two levels of services with our current air medical providers. If we leave, it can potentially compromise some residents and tourists as they will be without access to certain hospitals not accommodated by Trauma Star.
Safety is LifeNet’s number one priority, and its parent company, Air Methods, continues to actively pursue and invest in technologies, systems and training.
For example, the Company’s fleet is fully-equipped with Night Vision Goggle (NVG) technology, XM Satellite weather and tracking, Global Positioning Systems (GPS), and Helicopter Terrain Awareness and Warning Systems (HTAWS). Air Methods also utilizes Level D-qualified full-motion helicopter flight simulators allowing pilots to prepare for routine, unusual and emergency circumstances in a safe environment. The Company is currently expanding its full-motion simulation training via a long-term partnership with FlightSafety.
This equipment enhances our pilot’s situational awareness and provides critical information to improve operational safety. Our Operational Control Center (OCC) monitors our fleet at all times utilizing satellite tracking and communication providing support to our pilots before and during a flight. Much like our aviation standards, our clinical quality is the gold-standard in the industry.
In addition, LifeNet Key West is the only CAMTS-accredited (Commission on Accreditation of Medical Transport Systems) air medical provider in the region. Our clinical care includes extensive clinical training and the use of ICU level skills such as balloon pump management, complicated cardiac cases, time sensitive neurological emergencies, and many other specialty, non-trauma related diseases where not only time but clinical skill and interventional equipment are of the essence of our service.
You can let the County know that you want to keep two air ambulance services operating in the Florida Keys – 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year. Click here to submit a message to your commissioner.