Three memberships recommended for air ambulance coverage

If you live in the San Juans and you have a medical emergency that requires air transport to a hospital, there are three providers: Island Air Ambulance, Airlift Northwest and Lifeflight Network.

Each company requires its own membership fees to allow for coverage in San Juan County in the event that insurance doesn’t cover the cost of your flight.

“We’ve started using Lifeflight more in the past year or so,” said San Juan County Medical Director Joshua Corsa, MD. “Airlift and Lifeflight used to reciprocate with each other’s memberships but that is no longer. I can understand where it’s frustrating. When we make our decisions for time-critical emergencies, we chose whoever is the closest, most appropriate provider. And sometimes it can be an hour’s wait in the summer. So not using Lifeflight isn’t an option.”

Island Air, based in Friday Harbor, offers fixed-wing aircraft. Airlift NW, a program of the University of Washington, and Lifeflight, based out of Coupeville and Port Angeles, both primarily use helicopters. Which company you ride with and what hospital you arrive at depends on which island the patient is on and weather conditions. All three providers fly with a nurse and a paramedic.

If your medical insurance denies the transport, you may be responsible for the bill. Memberships purchased through the three airlift services act as a non-insurance supplement to your existing insurance. Enrollment with all three providers includes coverage for households and families.

“I view it as the cost of living and working in the San Juans,” Corsa said. “Plus, all three providers allow you to can sign up for the membership right there and then at the time of the emergency. There are only three air flight companies in the state, so I am covered pretty much wherever I go. I have been thrilled with all three. From a medical point of view, its been wonderful to have access to a third provider.”

Island Air ( states that its $39/per year membership covers “out-of-pocket costs like co-pays and deductibles,” and notes that Medicare and Medicaid both include an ambulance benefit in their coverage. Those with no health insurance, while not eligible for membership, are still eligible for service, according to its website.

Airlift NW ( states, “As a member, only your insurance company receives a bill. Airlift Northwest works directly with your insurance company for claims processing. The membership program is secondary to all payers. The purpose of the membership is to cover the patient responsibility amount indicated by the insurance company’s explanation of benefits for all emergency and medically necessary air medical transport services.” The cost is $60 per year.

Airlift has 2,739 households in San Juan County with a total of 6,041 people covered. It also has 20 business membership groups in the county with 787 households covered.

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james richardson

“We like to use the closest, most appropriate in the islands, and each of the three services all come from different bases,” Richardson said. “We have to consider the weather where we’re coming from, en route and then landing. It’s one of the reasons for the three memberships.”

Airlift NW offers a “Bedside sign up”: opportunity for the family or friend of the patient to get signed up or renew an expired membership before the helicopter leaves the ground. simple sign up. must have primary insurance and be a U.S. resident.

UW provides around $2.5 million in charity flights a year. Medicare or Medicaid patients fly free of charge.

• Have the three companies serving San Juan County considered one single option that covers all 3?

“In the past, it existed. There was a reciprocal relationship between the memberships and the attorney general made a ruling two years ago that it wasn’t possible. It is now actually illegal.” James. being not an insurance product so doesn’t meet the recriporicity guidelines.

Lifeflight ( asserts that there are “no out-of-pocket expenses beyond your annual membership.” If transport is deemed medically necessary or emergent, flights flown by Life Flight Network or one of its reciprocal partners are covered with your membership. Life Flight Network works directly with insurance companies for their portion of the payment and the rest of the cost is covered by your membership. The company offers several yearly plans including air, ground and air + ground.

Orcas Island sees about 1200 emergency medical calls per year and Lopez EMS responds to half of that number. Around 30 percent of the calls on Lopez and Orcas are airlifted to the mainland.

“San Juan does less because they have the hospital (Peace Health) right there. They still do 300 to 400 flights per year,” Corsa said. “We have one of the highest ‘no transport’ statistics in the nation because of the cost and location.”

Corsa said the county is currently conducting a study with patients who weren’t flown to determine if it was the right call.

“It’s so can tailor who we are flying off,” he said.

Corsa has also initiated two pilot studies in the county: treating severe sepsis with antibiotics and providing blood transfusions after testing patients’ hemoglobin levels — both in the ambulance prior to hospitalization.

“We are trying to put more capabilities in the ambulance,” he said. “We are one of three test sites in the country for the hemoglobin meter. We also take ultrasounds in the ambulance. There are a lot of things we are doing in the county that are first in the nation.”

People to talk to:

Josh Corsa, MD – County Medical Director –

Nathan Butler, SJI EMS

Scott Williams, OIFR

Adam Bigby, Lopez Fire & Rescue –

James Richardson, MBA, EMT-P Western Outreach Coordinator,Airlift Northwest

Lora York | Customer Service Manager/Flight Nurse – Coupeville, WA

Mobile 253.225.3470 | Dispatch 800.232.0911 |

Life Flight Network | 22285 Yellow Gate Lane Suite 102 | Aurora, Oregon 97002

I think Will Hamilton is still best Island Air contact: