Feb 3, 2015

Commissioners reconsider whether to buy you medical flight insurance

Park County commissioners are reconsidering whether they should buy everyone in the county a form of medical flight insurance. At least one commissioner is dead set against the idea.

EagleMed LLC — a private air ambulance service — is again asking commissioners to purchase a plan that would give county residents either free or discounted service if they become seriously injured or ill in Park County and are flown to a hospital by EagleMed.

EagleMed made the same pitch to commissioners in October 2013 and was turned down. The big difference now is that the price has dropped significantly: from $155,000 for a year’s worth of coverage down to $91,000.

EagleMed’s membership sales manager, Gary Robson, said the drop in price was a result of his company — which was just starting up its Cody base in 2013 — getting a better idea of its actual costs.

EagleMed's official logo.
Robson’s main argument to commissioners on Jan. 20 focused on Park County residents who end up having to get an emergency flight and face huge financial losses. He said there might be an average of 10 flights a month in Park County, each bringing a $25,000 to $35,000 bill. Robson said it varies as to whether insurance companies cover the flights, and when a resident is not covered, the impact is felt in the entire area.

“That is real economic loss to the county, to the members of the community, that that money just left the county (to go to medical bills),” Robson said. “That’s people not buying houses; they’re not buying cars. Inevitably, they wind up filing bankruptcy. That hurts the community when people have to file bankruptcy.”

“Is it government’s job to provide health care? No,” Robson said later. “But it is (government’s job) to try to preserve assets for the community and to try to help the community where they can.”

Commissioners said they wanted hard numbers about how many county residents have used EagleMed’s service, how much they’d had to pay out of pocket and how many people have had to file bankruptcy before.

“I can’t believe we’d even consider it,” said Commissioner Tim French.

Multiple counties across the country have bought similar “Municipal Site Plans” from EagleMed and the broader AirMedCare Network, its parent group. Washakie County joined last year. Robson said Washakie County commissioners didn’t receive any complaints after their $41,845 purchase of the coverage. He also said after Washakie County signed up, he received 200 to 250 phone calls asking him to re-approach Park County commissioners.

“Once people understand it, they’re all for it,” Robson said.

“If we’re paying for it, I’m sure they are,” responded Commissioner Lee Livingston.

As he did in 2013, Commissioner Tim French objected. He railed against the proposal as “just so wrong” and “socialism,” and said, “I can’t believe we’d even consider it.”

“It’s Obamacare Lite, or Park County’s version of Obamacare,” French said. “I don’t think it’s our place. How far does a county run with something like this? Do we buy dental insurance for everyone in the county?”

Citizens can buy an AirMedCare Network membership on their own for $65 per year per household. (Around 1,000 locals are members, Robson said.) If Park County paid $91,000 to cover the county’s roughly 11,800 households, it would break out to less than $8 per household — although the coverage isn’t as robust as the $65 plan. (The county’s “site plan” would only cover emergencies that occur in Park County; residents would need to pay a $35 upgrade fee to get the multi-county and multi-state AirMedCare Network coverage that comes with the $65 plan.)

“It’s a hell of a bargain insuring everyone in Park County versus everyone insuring themselves,” Commissioner Bucky Hall said, but he wanted to “put this out to my inner circle of close friends and acquaintances” before deciding whether he’d support spending taxpayers’ money on it.

Commissioners said they’d have EagleMed representatives back at a later date.

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