By Mark Kahler, Budget Travel Expert
July 13, 2015
No one wants to think about medical emergencies during travel. But if you should face this difficult situation, it pays to have some travel insurancethat covers your care, especially if you are outside your home country.
Sometimes, the best call is to get back home as quickly as possible. In that case, you will be shopping for an air ambulance.
Simply defined, an air ambulance is a fixed-wing or rotary-wing aircraft equipped with at least business-class amenities, plus medical equipment and personnel who are qualified to monitor the patient’s conditions throughout the trip. It becomes necessary when a ground-based ambulance is either geographically impossible or not quick enough to help the patient receive needed care.
If it is a critical situation, you’ll pay whatever the cost and sort out details at a later time. But as a budget traveler, you’ve learned to be prepared for the unexpected, and to make good choices that sometimes go beyond price.
COSTS AND COVERAGE
Depending upon distance and service required, costs for this type of service can run into the hundreds of thousands of dollars. So it will be important to have solid medical reasons for booking an air ambulance. You also must quickly determine who will be paying the bill.
Typically, travel insurance pays for an air ambulance only when the benefit is spelled out clearly in the policy, or when a doctor has prescribed the move as a medical necessity. For that reason, it is crucial to document every medical opinion offered by the doctors you see away from home. Get as much in writing as possible.
Always ask if the price quote is all-inclusive. There are many components to these services, including added staff, ground transportation, and more.
A FEW AIR AMBULANCE CHOICES
The first place you should search for air ambulance advice is your attending physician, who should have knowledge of companies that provide regular services in that locale.
Beyond that, it is impossible to know which air ambulance service will best fit the needs of a given patient, and no attempt is made here to endorse a particular service.
But there are companies that are invested in this type of emergency travel. The following alphabetized list is meant only as a starting point for your research.
AeroCare Medical Transport System, Inc. provides international service, and makes the statement that it “works diligently with insurance providers, hospitals, case managers, patients, and families to provide the best air ambulance services possible in the most cost effective manner.”
Aero Jet Medical provides service worldwide. Its mission statement emphasizes safety measures and quality care. It allows patients to obtain general price estimates anonymously on the web site. Note that these estimates often change when a patient’s specific needs are considered.
Air MD works with “FAA Air Carrier affiliates to provide 24 hour non-emergency air medical services throughout the world.”
Angel MedFlight provides international service with jets. According to their web site, a standard team includes two medical professionals, one of whom is either a physician or a critical care flight nurse.
Travel + Care International has been in business for more than three decades. It bills itself as an FAA-licensed international air ambulance provider.
FEATURES AND TIPS
A doctor’s orders always trump budget travel, but it still pays to shop several companies in order to get the best price, according to Danielle Wilson, CEO of Aero Jet Medical.
Wilson also says prop-engine planes tend to be less expensive, but sometimes result in problems for patients and medical teams.
“Jets provide a smoother ride, are faster and more comfortable,” says Wilson.
Other tips from Wilson:
- Ask about the number of medical attendants who will be on board, and find out if they are specialists in the appropriate medical field.
- Pack prescription information and medical documents for preexisting conditions.
- Find out if family members can fly on the air ambulance, and the costs involved for these passengers. Sometimes its better to book conventional flights for your travel party.
- Be certain that someone aboard will speak the patient’s language.
- Check on ground transportation to the hospital for the patient, and nail down who is responsible for providing it. Sometimes travel insurance covers these costs, but many times it is an additional expense for the patient.