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Tennessee County Considers Joining Medical Flight Network

JASPER, Tenn. — The Marion County Commission is considering joining the AirMedCare Network, which could eliminate the enormous costs associated with air ambulance flights for county residents.

“There’s a bill associated with that flight,” Jimmy Morse, an AirMedCare membership sales manager, told commissioners at a recent meeting. “A lot of times, your health insurance won’t pay the full cost of a flight.”

The average cost of a flight on Chattanooga’s Life Force helicopter from Marion is $32,000, Morse said, but the average amount that a health care provider pays for that flight is only $9,000.

Under the proposed municipal site management plan, Marion would pay about $11 per household, or approximately $127,500, for a one-year membership.

County residents could sign up as individual households for full membership throughout the 28-state AirMedCare Network at a reduced rate of $35 per year.

Right now, any household can get a full membership for $65 per year.

At its October meeting, the board voted unanimously for the finance committee to explore the proposal and make a recommendation at the Nov. 24 meeting.

Just a year ago, the Kimball Board of Mayor and Aldermen voted unanimously to pay $9,750 per year for citywide membership in the network, which covers every Kimball resident for any Life Force flight from inside the county.

To date, one Kimball resident has been flown out, and Morse said it would have cost that person about $25,000. Instead, there was no charge.

Morse said there were 81 Life Force flights out of Marion in 2012; 57 in 2013 and already 58 in 2014.

Marion residents have racked up around $928,000 in medical bills for those flights just this year. Morse said that’s money “leaving the county’s economy.”

Commissioner Tommy Thompson said he signed up his household for a full membership at $65 per year last year, but he’s against spending county funds on a site plan.

“That’s another example of the public wanting somebody to take care of them,” he said. “I think people should be responsible enough to take care of their own things. That’s $127,000 that I don’t think the county needs to pay out, myself.”

County Mayor David Jackson said he thinks the site plan is something worth the finance committee’s examination.

“Right now, we’re asking our county citizens to pay $65 per year instead of the $35 for extended coverage,” he said. “I’m all for the program, but that’s [the board’s] decision, and we’ll abide by that decision.”

Bledsoe County signed on for a similar plan in October 2013.

“They had 102 flights last year, and no one got a bill,” Morse said.

He said Bledsoe residents saved approximately $1.2 million that would’ve been charged for those flights.

Bledsoe leaders voted unanimously to renew their site plan membership for the next year recently.

“Obviously, if they’re voting for it unanimously, it’s doing what it’s supposed to do,” Morse said.

Ryan Lewis is based in Marion County. Contact him at [email protected]