Catalina Island News

Air Ambulance Plans Lower Helicopter Costs

Catalina Island Medical Center

Living or visiting Catalina is idyllic until a major illness or injury strikes.  Then the beautiful ocean that surrounds the island can become a barrier to getting loved ones to emergency or specialized medical care. If a medical emergency meets certain criteria as determined by the paramedics in the field or by a physician at CIMC that a patient needs immediate transport to a tertiary medical center, air medical transport may be the best option.  When emergent conditions arise CIMC typically works with MercyAir, the US Coast Guard, and the Los Angeles County Sherriff’s Department to get a patient transported.  Which air service is used may depend upon the patient’s condition, weather conditions or availability and configuration of air ships.

As one might expect, air ambulance services are expensive and therefore many health insurance policies note that air ambulances are to be used ”for medical necessity only.” This method of transport with the cost of the air ship, its operating cost and the fact it is staffed with a flight cres that is essentially an intensive unit crew can quickly add up.  In the United States, it’s not unusual for the cost of transport to be in the range of $15,000 to $50,000.  For most of us, this is beyond what we would like to pay out of pocket.

Most health insurance policies will pay for at least a small portion of a justified air medical transport, but the individual is then faced with paying the balance of the bill which can amount to thousands of dollars.

For residents of the Island, in addition to the coverage provided by your individual or group health insurance policy, there are several additional options with companies providing club membership or insurance programs to reduce or eliminate air transport costs beyond what your regular health insurance plan may cover. Typically these plans are available for individuals or families and can be as low as $49 per year per family as with the OMNIADVANTAGE product.  Usually these plans operate without limits as to the number of times the service is used.  Depending upon the plan, once your regular health insurance has paid, your air club membership or air insurance may pick up the rest of the cost and there may not be a balance due from you the patient.

Uninsured individuals may also be able to purchase membership coverage. Seniors covered by Medicare Part B or Medicare Advantage HMOs qualify for most standard memberships. Some seniors also have a Medicare supplement policy and, depending upon the plan, they may cover out-of-pocket expenses. Many seniors have said they want a membership even if they have complete coverage in the event their insurance coverage changes in the future or if the claim is denied. Often-times supplemental insurance won’t pay if your primary denies the claim. In those circumstances, membership may be beneficial.
Products commonly available on the Island include:

  • ?OMNI ADVANTAGE.  This is a program available through Air Methods Corporation which is the parent corporation for MercyAir.  They say their plan is applicable anywhere it or its subsidiaries fly.  This program may be advantageous for those who travel internationally less frequently and are more interested in coverage just off the Island or in the continental United States.  Detailed club membership information on their product can be found at
  • ?MASA.  For 40 years Medical Air Services Association (MASA) has been providing lifesaving transportation service coverage and giving over 1 million of their members a peace of mind.  They have a longstanding history of providing transport coverage over much of the globe.  For those who are out of country frequently this may be the plan for you. More information on their plan can be found at

While no one can predict a medical emergency, individuals can do some things to help reduce the financial impact. Know the limits of any policy that is purchased and determine if it is right for the greatest needs of you the member. If you have questions about the various plans and costs,specific information is available online or by calling Catalina Island Medical Center (310) 510-0700.