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WC Cost Control

Air Ambulance Rate Debate Unlikely to Fly Away

Where air ambulances are concerned, health care regulation is at odds with aviation regulation, creating a dispute over rates.
By: | March 9, 2018 • 4 min read

Disputes over air ambulance transport bills continue to rage on, and a recent ruling in Texas overturning a decision in favor of insurers isn’t likely to ground the debate.

More than a half a million individuals are transported via air ambulance services each year, according to the Association of Air Medical Services. The majority of these transports are via helicopter in emergency situations; the remainder are fixed-wing transports for longer distances.

Linda Colsen, vice president and national product leader, One Call Care Management

While fees charged by traditional medical transport services are regulated under the Affordable Care Act, air ambulance providers argue that they fall under the jurisdiction of the Airline Deregulation Act (ADA) of 1978, which prevents states from enacting or enforcing laws or regulations related to the price, route or service of an air transportation carrier.

This, unfortunately, has led to runaway transport fees and no way for insurers to mitigate them.

Linda Colsen, vice president and national product leader at Jacksonville, Fla.-based One Call Care Management, said emergent care situations where an individual needs to be transported via helicopter to a trauma center is the biggest contributor to these runaway rates.

“The call is being made on the ground in an emergency situation by the local EMS provider, and from a payer perspective, there’s no oversight, no ability to negotiate savings, and they’re stuck with the invoice that can be tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars,” she said.

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Colsen said one of her clients was billed more than $300,000 for a single helicopter emergency transport, but that One Call was able to negotiate savings of $173,000 for the insurer during a retrospective review.

Excessive helicopter transport bills were the crux of the lawsuit in PHI Air Medical, LLC v. Texas Mutual Insurance Company, et al. A trial court rendered judgment in favor of eight plaintiff insurers, which included Texas Mutual Insurance Company and Hartford Underwriters Insurance Company, who disagreed with PHI’s per-trip charge for medically transporting injured workers.

On Jan. 31, 2018, however, the Texas Court of Appeals remanded the case, holding that any rate provisions for air ambulance transports are preempted by the ADA.

Under the Texas Workers’ Compensation Act, the state’s Commissioner of Workers’ Compensation has the right to adopt policies and guidelines that reflect standardized reimbursement structures by using Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement methodologies and policies, and to ensure that these guidelines are fair and reasonable “to ensure the quality of medical care and to achieve effective medical cost control.”

The Act also defines a maximum allowable reimbursement (MAR) for workers’ comp-related medical costs, setting this MAR at 125 percent of the Medicare or state Medicaid fee schedule, or a “fair and reasonable rate” if neither applies.

While the trial court held the insurers could not be asked to pay more than 125 percent of the Medicare amount for air ambulance transport, the appeals court said the ADA’s preemption provision bars a state from enacting a law or rule “related to a price, route or service of an air carrier that may provide air transportation …”

Interestingly, the court did not demand that the insurers pay the air ambulance company.

“From a payer perspective, there’s no oversight, no ability to negotiate savings, and they’re stuck with the invoice that can be tens, even hundreds of thousands of dollars.” — Linda Colsen, vice president and national product leader, One Call Care Management

Mary Nichols, senior vice president and general counsel for Texas Mutual, said these court decisions have left no pathway to payment, and noted that the courts have not identified a single provision in the ADA or other federal statutes that would require state actors to make any payment of air ambulance claims, “much less at the rates they choose to charge.”

Although multiple states have enacted laws to combat unfair air ambulance charges — leading to dozens of lawsuits — they’re ineffectual unless Congress decides to make a change to the ADA.

“They are subject to challenge unless the courts or Congress clarifies the issue,” Nichols said. “Until then, states may lack the authority to order payment of any kind, including billed charges.”

Sen. Jon Tester, D-Montana, introduced S.B. 471 in February 2017, which would create an exemption in the ADA to allow states to regulate air ambulances. Although the bill has the support of the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, it hasn’t left committee.

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The courts could eventually clarify the issue too. Nichols said Texas Mutual will be filling a petition for review with the Texas Supreme Court, and noted that a similar case in West Virginia is on appeal to the 4th Circuit Court of Appeals.

The top executive of one southeastern air transport company said brokers who arrange services — some of whom may inflate the bill by as much as three to four times the actual cost of transport — are also a part of the problem. The executive, who asked not to be identified, said his company coordinates air ambulance services, and about 80 percent of its business involves coordinating services for workers’ comp clients.

He noted that he doesn’t see a reimbursement cap of 125 percent of Medicare as unreasonable. But he believes further attempts to implement legislation in the industry will receive significant push-back from brokers.

“There has to be a reasonableness that is fair to the broker and that is fair for the payer based upon the actual cost of rendering the services,” said the executive. &

Angela Childers is a Chicago-based writer specializing in health care and business management. She can be reached at [email protected]

More from Risk & Insurance

More from Risk & Insurance

High Net Worth

Your High Net Worth Client Wants to Live in the Danger Zone? Here’s What Your Resiliency Plan Should Look Like.

Having a resiliency plan and practicing it can make all the difference in a disaster.
By: | September 14, 2018 • 7 min read

Packed with state-of-the-art electronics, priceless collections and high-end furnishings, and situated in scenic, often remote locations, the dwellings of high net worth individuals and families pose particular challenges when it comes to disaster resiliency. But help is on the way.

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Armed with loss data, innovative new programs, technological advances, and a growing army of niche service-providers aimed at addressing an astonishingly diverse set of risks, insurers are increasingly determined to not just insure against their high net worth clients’ losses, but to prevent them.

Insurers have long been proactive in risk mitigation, but increasingly, after the recent surge in wildfire and storm losses, insureds are now, too.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy,” said Laura Sherman, founding partner at Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners.

And especially in the high net worth space, preventing that loss is vastly preferable to a payout, for insurers and insureds alike.

“If insurers can preserve even one house that’s 10 or 20 or 40 million dollars … whatever they have spent in a year is money well spent. Plus they’ve saved this important asset for the client,” said Bruce Gendelman, chairman and founder Bruce Gendelman Insurance Services.

High Net Worth Vulnerabilities

Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

As the number and size of luxury homes built in vulnerable areas has increased, so has the frequency and magnitude of extreme weather events, including hurricanes, harsh cold and winter storms, and wildfires.

“There is a growing desire to inhabit this riskier terrain,” said Jason Metzger, SVP Risk Management, PURE group of insurance companies. “In the western states alone, a little over a million homes are highly vulnerable to wildfires because of their proximity to forests that are fuller of fuel than they have been in years past.”

Such homes are often filled with expensive artwork and collections, from fine wine to rare books to couture to automobiles, each presenting unique challenges. The homes themselves present other vulnerabilities.

“Larger, more sophisticated homes are bristling with more technology than ever,” said Stephen Poux, SVP and head of Risk Management Services and Loss Prevention for AIG’s Private Client Group.

“A lightning strike can trash every electronic in the home.”

Niche Service Providers

A variety of niche service providers are stepping forward to help.

Secure facilities provide hurricane-proof, wildfire-proof off-site storage for artwork, antiques, and all manner of collectibles for seasonal or rotating storage, as well as ahead of impending disasters.

Other companies help manage such collections — a substantial challenge anytime, but especially during a crisis.

“Knowing where it is, is a huge part of mitigating the risk,” said Eric Kahan, founder of Collector Systems, a cloud-based collection management company that allows collectors to monitor their collections during loans to museums, transit between homes, or evacuation to secure storage.

“Before, insurance was considered the only step in risk management. Now, our client families realize it is one of the many imperative steps in an effective risk management strategy.” — Laura Sherman, founding partner, Baldwin Krystyn Sherman Partners

Insurers also employ specialists in-house. AIG employs four art curators who advise clients on how to protect and preserve their art collections.

Perhaps the best known and most striking example of this kind of direct insurer involvement are the fire teams insurers retain or employ to monitor fires and even spray retardant or water on threatened properties.

High-Level Service for High Net Worth

All high net worth carriers have programs that leverage expertise, loss data, and relationships with vendors to help clients avoid and recover from losses, employing the highest levels of customer service to accomplish this as unobtrusively as possible.

“What allows you to do your job best is when you develop that relationship with a client, where it’s the same people that are interacting with them on every front for their risk management,” said Steve Bitterman, chief risk services officer for Vault Insurance.

Site visits are an essential first step, allowing insurers to assess risks, make recommendations to reduce them, and establish plans in the event of a disaster.

“When you’re in a catastrophic situation, it’s high stress, time is of the essence, and people forget things,” said Sherman. “Having a written plan in place is paramount to success.”

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Another important component is knowing who will execute that plan in homes that are often unoccupied.

Domestic staff may lack the knowledge or authority to protect the homeowner’s assets, and during a disaster may be distracted dealing with threats to their own homes and families. Adequate planning includes ensuring that whoever is responsible has the training and authority to execute the plan.

Evaluating New Technology

Insurers use technologies like GPS and satellite imagery to determine which homes are directly threatened by storms or wildfires. They also assess and vet technologies that can be implemented by homeowners, from impact glass to alarm and monitoring systems, to more obscure but potentially more important options.

AIG’s Poux recommends two types of vents that mitigate important, and unexpected risks.

“There’s a fantastic technology called Smart Vent, which allows water to flow in and out of the foundation,” Poux said. “… The weight of water outside a foundation can push a foundation wall in. If you equalize that water inside and out at the same level, you negate that.”

Another wildfire risk — embers getting sucked into the attic — is, according to Poux, “typically the greatest cause of the destruction of homes.” But, he said, “Special ember-resisting venting, like Brandguard Vents, can remove that exposure altogether.”

Building Smart

Many disaster resiliency technologies can be applied at any time, but often the cost is fractional if implemented during initial construction. AIG’s Smart Build is a free program for new or remodeled homes that evolved out of AIG’s construction insurance programs.

Previously available only to homes valued at $5 million and up, Smart Build recently expanded to include homes of $1 million and up. Roughly 100 homes are enrolled, with an average value of $13 million.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work.” — Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“We know what goes wrong in high net worth homes,” said Poux, citing AIG’s decades of loss data.

“We’re incenting our client and by proxy their builder, their architects and their broker, to give us a seat at the design table. … That enables us to help tweak the architectural plans in ways that are very easy to do with a pencil, as opposed to after a home is built.”

Poux cites a remote ranch property in Texas.

Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting, Private Client Group, Ironshore

“The client was rebuilding a home but also installing new roads and grading and driveways. … The property was very far from the fire department and there wasn’t any available water on the property.”

Poux’s team was able to recommend underground water storage tanks, something that would have been prohibitively expensive after construction.

“But if the ground is open and you’ve got heavy equipment, it’s a relatively minor additional expense.”

Homes that graduate from the Smart Build program may be eligible for preferred pricing due to their added resilience, Poux said.

Recovery from Loss

A major component of disaster resiliency is still recovery from loss, and preparation is key to the prompt service expected by homeowners paying six- or seven-figure premiums.

Before Irma, PURE sent contact information for pre-assigned claim adjusters to insureds in the storm’s direct path.

“In the high net worth space, sometimes it takes longer potentially to recover, simply because there are limited contractors available to do specialty work,” said Curt Goetsch, head of underwriting for Ironshore’s Private Client Group.

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“If you’ve got custom construction or imported materials in your house, you’re not going to go down the street and just find somebody that can do that kind of work, or has those materials in stock.”

In the wake of disaster, even basic services can be scarce.

“Our claims and risk management departments have to work together in advance of the storm,” said Bitterman, “to have contractors and restoration companies and tarp and board services that are going to respond to our company’s clients, that will commit resources to us.”

And while local agents’ connections can be invaluable, Goetsch sees insurers taking more of that responsibility from the agent, to at least get the claim started.

“When there is a disaster, the agency’s staff may have to deal with personal losses,” Goetsch said. &

Jon McGoran is a novelist and magazine editor based outside of Philadelphia. He can be reached at [email protected]