Mumbai Local

Air ambulance cost: insurers offer hope

The country’s emergency medicine service could be taking wing with the Directorate General of Civil Aviation (DGCA) considering the approval of a chopper ambulance service to land on roads and highways.

However, pricing of the air ambulance service remains a key concern in Maharashtra where the State government signed a memorandum of understanding (MoU) with city-based MAB Aviation Pvt. Ltd. during the Make in India week held here in February.

And even as hospitals battle the dilemma of whether or not to use the ambulance service, the cost of which could range from Rs 2.5 lakh to up to Rs 18 lakh depending on the distance, there is hope. Insurance firms might just cover transport of patients to hospitals in their health insurance policies, an MAB official said.

“Not a single insurance company covers the cost of transport of patients,” said Mandar Bharde, managing director of MAB. “We have been in talks with three major insurance companies, both government and private, and things are looking positive. Once the insurance kicks in, price will not be a concern.”

Speaking to The Hindu on Sunday, Mr Bharde said that unlike developed nations such as Australia, UK and Canada where the patient’s transport to the hospital is covered by the insurance company, it is not so in India as insurance firms pertinently ask about the infrastructure in place to justify the cost. “We will have a fleet of 10 aircraft that we will fly as ambulances across the country,” he said. Currently, the aviation firm uses aircrafts procured from a third party.

The need for an air ambulance is acutely felt in Mumbai, particularly after the number of organ transplants in the city have gone up. City doctors have been air-dashing to various cities within and outside Maharashtra to harvest organs and then flying back to transplant them, ensuring minimum loss of time. The cost of the air ambulance, however, remained contentious with different aviation firms quoting varying rates.

“We have had to pay a private firm as much as Rs. 20 lakh to lift an organ,” said Dr Gauri Rathod, nodal officer for Maharashtra’s human organ transplant programme. She said the rates have now come down to an average of Rs. 5-6 lakh. After the MoU was signed, MAB’s air ambulance has been used three times to ferry harvested hearts to Mumbai. Dr. Rathod, however, expressed hope that once the air ambulance demand picks up for even emergency cases along with that for organs, the cost will come down.

Going forward, Dr. Rathod said that the state should be divided into five to six zones, with an air ambulance dedicated to each and a central call centre to route requests to the relevant zone.

Sources said that given that the cost of the air ambulance is passed on to the patient, it remains unaffordable. Doctors said the ambulance service should view it as a humanitarian cause and not just a business activity. They also said there should be strict guidelines and standard costs between sectors. “Also, industrialists and philanthropists who own private choppers should consider giving it for medical emergencies at the cost price,” said a senior doctor. Lower costs would in turn give a boost to the ambulance service. For now, only super-rich patients use ambulance services.

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Printable version | Nov 16, 2020 9:52:00 AM | https://www.thehindu.com/news/cities/mumbai/news/Air-ambulance-cost-insurers-offer-hope/article14432770.ece

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