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Efficiency Creates Lower Costs


LifeFlight of Maine averages a $14,000 patient charge per flight, and only half its patients can even afford to pay. The average U.S. company charged Medicare $30,000 in 2014, according to the latest Government Accounting Office study. Other studies have found prices reaching $50,000.


LifeFlight’s lower cost doesn’t come from cutting corners. It owns three Leonardo AW twin-engine helicopters, with two AW109E models and a newer AW109SP that features the latest global navigation satellite system. They operate out of three bases with four pilots at each base. They have eight mechanics. LifeFlight also owns a fixed-wing Beechcraft King Air B200 for longer flights to major hospitals so helicopters are not tied up for an entire day.


LifeFlight of Maine also contracts with local ambulance companies for critical care ground transportation during bad weather, bringing its highly skilled contract flight crew and equipment to others’ ambulances when needed. Sometimes its air and ground


equipment exceeds that available at smaller hospitals. LifeFlight eats all its costs for ground transports, giving all the proceeds to the ambulance companies in exchange for the use of their vehicles.


Another way that LifeFlight of Maine keeps down costs is by contracting or leasing with hospitals to provide flight crews on an as-needed basis. This also eliminates any temptation to keep such employees busy by conducting unnecessary flights. LifeFlight of Maine has a strict protocol to make sure only critical care patients are transported by air, with only medical professionals authorized to order flights. Last year it transported 1,929 patients via air and ground from 124 communities, with 87 percent of flights to hospitals and 13 percent to the scene. Three-fourths of the transports were by air. The annual operating budget was $11.6 million, while the LifeFlight Foundation budget of $3.5 million last year covered capital costs. Requests for services increase 7-11 percent annually.


Studies have concluded that some for- profit companies transport patients by air when a ground ambulance would be sufficient. The U.S. has a glut of medical emergency helicopters that also contributes to unnecessary flights, Judge said. The number of air ambulance helicopters in the U.S. has doubled in the last 15 years, according to a University of Chicago Aeromedical Network analysis.


Part of the reason for the glut stems from Medicare’s one-size-fits-all reimbursement rates that are based on air ambulances operated by hospitals using twin-engine rotorcraft, Judge said. For-profit companies can utilize single-engine helicopters and cut other safety costs to make more money. Meanwhile, federal law prohibits states from controlling air ambulance rates. Between 2010 and 2014, the average air ambulance patient charge rose from $15,000 to $30,000, according to Medicare data gathered by the U.S. Government Accountability Office.


MedComm, LifeFlight’s


integrated communication center based at Bangor International Airport, coordinates transport requests while working closely with SevenBar Aviation, LifeFlight’s aviation partner. Comm specialists coordinate care and logistics across the geography of time.


Since it began operations in 1998, LifeFlight has operated AgustaWestland (now Leonardo) helicopters. Now in a fourth generation of 109s, LifeFlight operates E Powers and SPs.


46 Sept/Oct 2018


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