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Expensive medical airlifts will become more common and our leaders must do more to contain the cost

August 30, 2018 Article 2 min read
Emergency airlifts have become more prevalent because of closures and other service changes in regional hospital systems. Policymakers should take steps to ensure their use doesn't lead to a financial calamity for patients. Read more in the Dallas Morning News.

Photo of medical personnel performing an emergency medical airlift.

As our health care industry undergoes a period of disruption, regional hospitals are closing or reducing services at an unprecedented pace. This creates a new challenge: The use of for-profit airlift services to get trauma patients to distant emergency facilities and the new financial anxieties it creates.

At least 87 regional hospitals have closed since 2010, according to research by the University of North Carolina. Among the hardest hit states are Texas, Tennessee, Georgia, Alabama, Mississippi, North Carolina and Kentucky. As health care shifts from a fee-for-service model to being paid only for outcomes, care is increasingly consolidating into centers of excellence.

This has caused a spike in the use of airlift services, such as helicopters, to carry trauma patients greater distances to reach a suitable hospital. Moreover, these services aren't cheap, often costing tens of thousands of dollars. This has resulted in some patients waking up from one trauma only to find themselves shocked by their transport bill.

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