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Air Ambulance Services and Idaho’s Abortion Ban

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The need for air ambulance services in Idaho is cropping up for an unusual reason. Since the U.S. Supreme Court decided to consider a case about whether a federal law on emergency medical treatment supersedes an abortion ban in Idaho, one of the state’s largest hospitals has seen a significant increase in air transports for pregnancy complications. In all of 2023, there was just one such transport. However, in the first few months of this year, there have already been six.

The Financial Impact of Air Ambulance Services

This increase in air ambulance flights has prompted some Idaho physicians to advise pregnant patients, or those trying to conceive, to purchase air ambulance memberships. The costs associated with these flights can be staggering, often amounting to thousands of dollars, even for those with private insurance.

There is ongoing uncertainty about whether the No Surprises Bill, designed to protect patients from unexpected medical bills, would apply in these situations. The key issue is determining medical necessity, which can be ambiguous in cases of pregnancy complications involving abortions.

Complications and Medical Necessity

Consider a scenario where a patient’s water breaks due to a pregnancy complication. Despite a detectable fetal heartbeat, the fetus may not survive without amniotic fluid, and the patient risks severe infection or hemorrhage. Before the abortion ban, doctors would likely recommend terminating the pregnancy to prevent these life-threatening complications.

With the ban in place, terminating the pregnancy in-state is not an option. Patients may need to travel out of state for this procedure, necessitating the use of an air ambulance. The longer these complications persist, the greater the risk to the patient’s health and future fertility.

The High Costs of Air Ambulance Flights

The financial burden of air ambulance flights is considerable. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners, the average cost for a 52-mile air ambulance flight ranges between $12,000 and $25,000 before insurance. Boise to Salt Lake City is approximately 340 miles, significantly increasing the cost. Depending on their insurance plan, patients might still be responsible for 20% of the cost out of pocket.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services report even higher median costs, between $36,000 and $40,000. Given these potential expenses, purchasing air ambulance memberships could be a wise precaution for those at risk of pregnancy complications.

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