CMH Monashee

Search & Rescue vs. Air Ambulance Costs in the USA – What You Need to Know

Accidents and emergencies happen, and depending on the severity of the incident, some require airlifted assistance, which can come with a hefty price tag. Recently, Jeremy [Jib] Jones, was caught in an avalanche in the Utah Backcountry and needed to be whisked to a hospital immediately.

While details of his accident are emerging, we know that Jeremy was airlifted to a Utah hospital where he underwent emergency surgery. Following that incident, a crowdfunding campaign was launched and cited its cause was to raise funds for Jermey’s mounting medical bills and costs incurred with his emergency air lift. An incredible outpouring of support surfaced, but also numerous questions as to why he would need monetary help, if in fact he was insured.

That’s where the question of air ambulance rescue and search and rescue costs come in. We don’t know the exact details of Jeremy’s rescue, or his bill, but it may be likely he doesn’t have insurance that covers his air ambulance travel.

Here’s a break down of general differences between Air Ambulances and Search and Rescue (SAR) Costs:

Jason Broz watches as the helicopter lifts off back to town.
Jason Broz watches as a heli lifts off.

Air Ambulance:

•Private insurance companies that offer ambulance coverage may not cover the full cost of air ambulances, leaving more patients to pay the difference.

•Generally, the cost of an air ambulance bill is split into two main parts: A liftoff fee, which has a broad range, plus a per-mile charge for the flight, which ranges from around $20 to $150 a mile. [Source]

•States can regulate some medical aspects of air ambulances, but federal laws prevent states from limiting aviation rates, routes and services.

•Insurers,who has been under pressure to cut health care costs, have reduced reimbursements for air ambulances. Medicare has typically covered a smaller portion of the bills than private insurance, and Medicaid even less. [Source]

•Some air ambulance companies offer membership programs as protection from big bills.

•For an annual fee of around $50 to $100, patients won’t be billed beyond what their health insurance pays.

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Search and Rescue Air Rescue:

•If the air assisted help is from the Coast Guard, the National Park Service (NPS), or a separate Search and Rescue company, (SAR), then they generally take care of costs. These agencies are funded by taxpaying citizens of the United States and don’t have a policy for charging for SAR missions. [Source]

•SAR operators try to avoid charging patients, although it remains up to the local jurisdictions involved in the mission.

•The costs of SAR operations is offset by the NPS with money brought in by the fees paid by millions of park visitors each year. [Source]

•Whenever the military is involved, the costs are generally counted as training dollars. [Source]

•Some states offer Search and Rescue protection for minimal yearly fees to insure no charges are incurred for a rescue.

•In Europe, you’re on your own with costs for rescue, but you can purchase special insurance that covers costs if a rescue is needed.

* Please note this is general information and each rescue scenario has its own circumstances and reasons for how they are billed.

For now, stay safe out there, and let’s hope none of you need to experience this type of rescue.

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