May 2—Otero County Commissioners agreed to write a letter of support to Air Methods Corp., a privately-owned helicopter operator which provides emergency medical services to 100,000 patients every year and serves 48 states, to start a membership program for Otero County residents at their April 12 regular Otero County Commission meeting.
The program being offered called Air Methods Advantage, provides individuals and families the security of being covered if there is a need for a loved one to be transported via air ambulance anywhere in its large service area.
The annual membership payment assures that covered family members enrolled in the program will not have to pay for anything over and above the amount paid by their health insurance providers for a medically necessary transport provided by Air Methods.
Native Air, which is the air ambulance service at Gerald Champion Regional Medical Center, is owned by Air Methods Corp. which is based out of Denver, Colorado.
Regional Business Development Manager for Native Air and flight paramedic Eric Palma said the more residents that sign up for the program, the cheaper it will be.
"Essentially, it's a membership program that's open to the public. We're here to engage the county and County Commissioners to try and get an endorsement for this program and offer it on a large-scale basis for the entire county," Palma said. "Communities like Timberon have elected to go together as a group to enroll in this program. We've done presentations for the County Fire Chief's Association and PNM utilities, and they've all elected to go into smaller groups. The benefit of going in as a larger group is a discounted price."
Palma said some counties across the U.S. have elected to enroll in the membership program as a whole county.
"Some counties have elected to go in as a whole county and the county chooses to pay for membership for all the residents of the county. It's a big expense, there are about 65,000 residents in Otero County, those are the numbers I checked last time. So, that would bring the price per individual down to $2.50 a year," Palma said. "The cost, if the county chooses to pay, would be about $160,000. I know that's a huge unexpected expense."
Palma said the membership does not have to be paid by the county, it could be paid by the residents if they choose to enroll.
"The program doesn't have to be paid by the county, it could be paid by the individuals. Individuals or companies are choosing to sign up for the program," Palma said. "We want to try and lower the costs to the individual. It's no secret that it's expensive to run an air medical helicopter. If anybody here or their family has been flown, the aftermath, the hospital bills, can be a huge headache on top of recovering from an injury or illness. Healthcare systems are limited in rural southern New Mexico."
Commission Chairman Lori Bies said the community of Timberon was thankful for Air Methods' service because it gives them peace of mind. She said they can be flown to the hospital in 15 minutes.
"The people of Timberon are incredibly thankful for your service, it's hard to go up there," Bies said. "It's a difference between life and death."
Palma said he hopes over 1,000 residents will sign up for the membership program so they can receive the benefits at a discounted rate.
Air Methods Advantage membership plans for individuals start at $40 per year, and family plans cost $75 annually for members with primary health insurance coverage.
"Setting up a group will allow an agreement with Otero County that in the first year the price per individual or family is based on what that number is," Palma said. "The more enrolled, the cheaper it is."