Lifeflight Is Different than Other Helicopter Ems You’ve Read about Recently

ABC News recently ran an investigative story about charges and collections in the helicopter EMS industry. This follows many other similar national and regional news stories that have appeared over the last several months.

We thought this might be a nice opportunity to talk about how LifeFlight of Maine’s air ambulance services are much different.

The ability to respond 24/365 requires high readiness costs, but when the nonprofit LifeFlight of Maine was created in 1998, founders were tasked with building a world-class service that could operate within Maine’s economic reality. Today, Maine is recognized as having one of the best air ambulance services in North America with among the very lowest rates for service, while taking care of everyone in need regardless of insurance status or ability to pay. How does LifeFlight maintain reasonable costs, while flying state-of-the-art aircraft and providing higher levels of care?

Our model differs from that described in the ABC story in several important ways.

  • Business model. We are a nonprofit charity organization, chartered by Central Maine Health Care and Eastern Maine Healthcare Systems more than 17 years ago. We do not have shareholders to pay, and our vision and mission are based on what’s best for our patients and the people of Maine. Only 15% of the helicopter EMS industry is not-for-profit, including most of the services in northern New England.
  • Service area. LifeFlight of Maine was founded in Bangor and Lewiston by two cornerstones of the state’s healthcare system with the intent to serve all of Maine. LifeFlight is headquartered locally and we have deep ties to the people and communities we serve.
  • Charges. Our rates are based on state and federal ambulance billing guidelines. To keep our rates as low as possible, LifeFlight collaborates with partner organizations to share staffing and other services; we keep our overhead costs lean; and we rely on private fundraising to cover the majority of our capital purchases. Realizing we don’t have all of the details for the flights described in the ABC story, based on the mileage provided, we estimate that our billed charges for those transports would be about ¼ of those reported.
  • Collections. We believe it is critical to care for our patients after the transport with the same respect and quality as we provide during the transport. We work with patients and their insurers to collect fair and reasonable charges, and our charitable mission as a nonprofit includes the provision of free care when needed. Last year, nearly 20% of our patients did not have insurance, and unpaid bills from uninsured and underinsured patients totaled more than $1.9 million.
  • Common Good. The service LifeFlight provides serves the greater  good. We take that mission seriously and strive to create both a statewide system that can be used as a model for other medical services, as well as an improved national structure that will lead to a safer, more effective, more accountable and patient-centric system.

If you have any questions about LifeFlight and the service we provide, please don’t hesitate to contact us.