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Montana Hospitals Struggling to Provide Medical Flight Services


The Big Sky state has had its share of news about huge bills for medical flight services. The main reason is that the cost pressures have hit the state’s hospitals hard, forcing them to make difficult financial decisions. Owing to this, many hospitals in Montana have resorted to retaining private contractors instead of providing a service for air ambulance themselves. For these facilities, discontinuing the service is a more viable option than having to close their doors completely.

Financial Strain Threatens Closure for Hospitals

The rural healthcare crisis is so extensive that iVantage Health Analytics in 2015 predicted the closure of 13% of rural hospitals. With the high cost of maintaining hospitals, some establishments have chosen to opt out of providing extended services such as air ambulance. In fact, St. Patrick Hospital in Missoula had been losing about $1.6 million every year by providing such services. To minimize this loss, the facility was compelled to retain Northwest MedStar, a Washington-based private contractor.

Minimizing the cost of medical flight services

An air ambulance makes a huge difference in saving the lives of patients, especially in rural areas. Medical flight services in the form of well-equipped helicopters could be the solution for hospitals providing care in sparsely-populated regions. However, since private contractors are usually not in the patients’ insurance networks, the air ambulance bill may even reach as high as $85,000.

According to the Missoulian, only 5 out of the 13 licensed air ambulance contractors in Montana contract with an insurer. This is an alarming report as the balance bills may even come up to seven times what Medicare pays. While some of these contractors offer low-cost memberships available for individuals and households, they aren’t widely marketed. Having more air ambulance contractors in the insurance network could help in reducing the cost of such services for the patients.

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