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Agreement paves way for BCBS MS patients’ AirCare coverage

Published on Monday, August 17, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

Photos By: Jay Ferchaud/ UMMC Communications

An agreement championed by the University of Mississippi Medical Center significantly reduces the cost burden to patients insured by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi, including state employees through the Advanced Health Systems State Network, who are flown by UMMC’s AirCare, the state’s most advanced medical helicopter transport.

Paul Boackle, a flight nurse with AirCare, readies the helicopter for its next trip while it's temporarily parked at the new MCES building.
Paul Boackle, a flight nurse with AirCare, readies the helicopter for its next trip while temporarily parked at the new Mississippi Center for Emergency Services building.

The new in-network agreement between AirCare’s aviation partner Med-Trans and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi means the cost of a medically necessary AirCare flight for those insured by Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi will be covered, with the exception of required co-pays and deductibles.

Because Blue Cross & Blue Shield is Mississippi’s largest commercial health insurer, the agreement will cover hundreds of thousands of Mississippians. AirCare, with bases in Jackson, Meridian, Columbus and Greenwood, provides more patient flights in Mississippi than any other medical air transport. 

Unlike some services, AirCare doesn’t just offer a fast ride to the hospital. It brings the hospital to the patient, not just the patient to the hospital. AirCare is essentially a mobile intensive care unit, flying life-saving equipment and expertise to patients, whether that’s in a community hospital or on the side of a country road.

Earlier this year, AirCare established a new, collaborative program with Med-Trans that will help enhance the helicopter operation’s clinical, research and education excellence. While AirCare provides all clinical care for those it flies, Med-Trans focuses on the business side of the program, including billing, providing three of AirCare’s four helicopters, and providing pilots, equipment and maintenance services.

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The new agreement is an integral component of UMMC’s relationship with Med-Trans, said Dr. Damon Darsey, MCES medical director and an associate professor of emergency medicine.

“UMMC’s Mississippi Center for Emergency Services and AirCare leadership continue to be actively involved under the leadership of U.S. Sen. Roger Wicker in the national debate and legislative process to lessen the financial impact on patients, while ensuring rural service areas are covered by critical care transport teams,” Darsey said.

Mississippi Insurance Commissioner Mike Chaney; Liz Welch, executive director of the Mississippi Department of Finance and Administration; and officials with Mississippi’s state health plan worked closely with MCES to ensure that the agreement was completed, helping to ensure citizens across the state, including all state employees, have access to “the best in critical care transport via AirCare,” Darsey said.

“Med-Trans and its parent company, Global Medical Response, and Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Mississippi worked through tough issues with candor, respect and diligence.”

AirCare is the only medical helicopter program in Mississippi that flies patients of any age, including infants. AirCare has the state’s only neonatal-trained air transport team, flying the most acutely ill newborns to UMMC for intensive care. It’s the only program utilizing isolettes for premature and ill infants.

All of AirCare’s clinical flight crew members are specially trained by UMMC’ s faculty on the latest life-saving techniques and provide care through advanced treatment protocols. All flights are staffed at minimum by a critical care paramedic, registered nurse and pilot.

AirCare is the only medical helicopter transport program operating in the state, and one of few in the nation, that stocks and administrates prothrombin complex concentrate to reverse anticoagulant drugs in the systems of patients with acute major bleeding. AirCare also carries whole blood, liquid plasma and an ultrasound machine.

Next year, AirCare will celebrate its 25th anniversary.

“UMMC staff hope that the parties that supported this agreement will continue to meet and work to improve the overall critical care transport industry in Mississippi, with a sharp focus on quality care, utilization and geographic coverage,” Darsey said.