May 2—One of the nation's largest air-ambulance companies has closed two bases in Kentucky, citing low payments from Medicaid and Medicare as a factor.
Air Methods confirmed it has closed its LifeNet bases in London and Lebanon.
The company said it would continue serving those areas with helicopters from other bases in Kentucky.
"We are committed to ensuring each community where a base has closed continues to have the critical access to air medical services from our locations in Somerset and Elizabethtown or a different air medical provider," company spokesman Doug Flanders said in a statement.
The company, headquartered in Colorado, said there were a total of 23 employees at the two bases it closed. Many have applied for jobs at other Air Methods locations, Flanders said.
In addition to Somerset and Elizabethtown, the company has bases in Mt. Sterling, Glasgow and Bedford.
The company has closed bases in seven states over the last month, Flanders said.
Officials with ambulance services in London and Lebanon said they don't expect losing the Air Methods bases will cause problems in getting air ambulances to fly people out for medical treatment because there are other options.
A company called PHI Air Medical has a base in London and another called Air Evac Lifeteam has helicopters nearby in Manchester and Corbin, said Maj. Jamey Mills with Ambulance Inc. of Laurel County.
"I don't think it will delay us on getting patients flown out," Mills said of losing the London Air Methods base.
Adam Nelson, a supervisor with the ambulance service in Marion County, said there is no shortage of air ambulance services available. There are three other bases within 30 miles of Lebanon and dozens of helicopters available across Kentucky from various companies, Nelson said.
There's never been a problem getting a chopper for an emergency unless bad weather prevented flying, he said.
"We are inundated with air ambulances all over the place," Nelson said.
Flanders said Medicare and Medicaid pay air ambulance services less than it costs to transport patients, and that people who are uninsured or pay the cost of a flight themselves also typically pay less than full cost.
In Kentucky, almost 70 percent of the patients Air Methods flies are covered by Medicare, Medicaid, are uninsured or pay the costs themselves, meaning the company doesn't get full reimbursement from a large number of transports, Flanders said.
The company shifts costs to people with private insurance, Flanders said.
"This business environment is not sustainable and puts emergency transport access at risk, which is critical in a rural state like Kentucky," Flanders said.