Legislation would reinstate medevac membership programs

Airlift Northwest has added a Turbo Commander to the Southeast Alaska fleet, for access to communities where the Lear Jet can't land. Photo by Dick Isett.

Airlift Northwest has added a Turbo Commander to the Southeast Alaska fleet, for access to communities where the Lear Jet can’t land. Photo by Dick Isett.

Airlift Northwest could bring back its popular membership program under legislation introduced in the Alaska House and Senate.

The state’s Division of Insurance last November told the company to discontinue its AirCare membership, because it no longer met the letter of Alaska law.

That prompted complaints to Southeast Alaska legislators, and Rep. Cathy Munoz started working on legislation to allow air ambulance membership programs in the state.  Several Southeast legislators have signed on to the bill.

Airlift Northwest started the Alaska AirCare program in 2008. Nearly all of the more than 32-hundred members are in Southeast, a third of them in Juneau.

An emergency medical flight from Southeast Alaska to Seattle or Anchorage can cost $100,000 or more.

Karla Hart purchased her membership about four years ago, when she learned about the program through her doctor’s office.  She says she did some research and figured it was a no brainer:

A hundred bucks to not have to worry if I’ll have a financial hardship if I need a medevac?

A number of Hart’s family and friends are also AirCare members, and so far no one has had to use it.

It’s peace of mind, she says.

AirCare is purchased by household; one membership covers everyone in living in a home.  The cost is $100 a year.

It’s considered a supplement to other health care insurance.

Airlift Northwest executive director Chris Martin says the company has always been clear that AirCare is not an insurance program.

“In most medical situations, insurance is billed and then there’s a co-pay.  What an AirCare membership guarantees you is that you have no out of pocket expenses or no co-pay.  So we bill the insurance, we take what the insurance reimburses us and you as our AirCare member do not see a bill for any further services,” she explains.

The AirCare program operates in Washington state as a non-profit, and was allowed to operate as a non-profit in Alaska  under an exemption.

Acting Insurance Director Marty Hester says Airlift Northwest was no longer considered a non-profit when the company restructured under the University of Washington Medical School.

“The program they were offering was a transfer of risk and that is the definition of insurance, when a risk in transferred from one person to another,” he says.

House Bill 300 and Senate Bill 159 should correct the problem.  The legislation allows air ambulance providers to offer membership programs like AirCare, and permits the insurance division to adopt regulations covering such programs.

Rep. Munoz’s office worked with Hester on the legislation, but he would not comment on the bill.

She says she heard from a lot of constituents when they found out their supplemental plan was no longer good.

“The legislation will re-establish the opportunity for companies like Air Lift Northwest to provide membership service to residents that wish to have that extra coverage for emergency transport,” Munoz says.

She says more than 1,300 Juneau residents have an AirCare membership and many are senior citizens.

 Certainly we live in an area that is somewhat isolated and people, especially seniors and people facing difficult health situations, want this added assurance that they can get out safely and at a reasonable cost,” Munoz says.

According to Airlift Northwest’s Martin, Alaska is the only state in the U.S. that does not allow medevac services to offer a supplemental membership program to help defray the cost of an emergency medical flight.

Recent headlines

  • Bartlett Regional Hospital. (Photo by Jennifer Canfield/KTOO)

    Juneau Assembly names new hospital board members

    The Juneau Assembly has appointed Dr. Bob Urata and Lance Stevens to the nine-member Bartlett Regional Hospital board. Urata is a physician with a longtime practice. Stevens is a former president of the Juneau Chamber of Commerce.
  • (Photo via U.S. Fish and Wildlife)

    More snow means moose move to roads

    Recent heavy snow accumulation is pushing moose onto Alaska roads increasing collision danger. When snow piles up, you’re more likely to encounter moose on roads.
  • A map of the favored proposed route to Katzehin. (Map courtesy Alaska DOT)

    Juneau Assembly votes 6-3 to support the road

    The Juneau Access Project envisions 50 more miles of road up Lynn Canal to a ferry terminal closer to the road system. It has divided the Juneau community for decades and faces significant opposition from other southeast cities including Haines and Skagway. Alaska Gov. Bill Walker pulled the plug on the $574 million project last month.
  • Vote postponed over Juneau’s controversial ‘camping ordinance’

    The Juneau Assembly heard more than 90 minutes of testimony from dozens of residents including merchants, social workers and homeless people themselves who all agreed on one thing: Juneau has a serious homeless problem. But speakers had radically different viewpoints.
X