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Rescue Insurance


Original Post
Josh Allred · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 165

Ive been thinking about getting rescue insurance. Im aware that the AAC has a program that covers 5K in domestic rescues.

Im curious, does anybody know what the average helicopter rescue costs?

Is it 10-15K or 50K? Im sure it depends how long you're out there.

What would be sufficiant coverage for a domestice resuce? Im in SLC, UT for reference.

Thanks.

I found a couple resources but curious what others found:
outsideonline.com/1986496/s…

le.utah.gov/~2015/bills/sta…

americanalpineclub.org/rescue/

Alex CV · · Greater NYC area · Joined Jun 2011 · Points: 200

Good question. There was a thread recently that covered this somewhat.

I joined the AAC in part because of the rescue insurance but it sounds like it isn't straightforward to implement when you actually need it.

Alex

curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 63

first, you need to define what you mean by rescue. any rescue team accredited by the MRA will NOT charge you for the activities of a rescue that the team participates in. you need to check if the rescue team that services the area(s) you recreate in is part of the MRA.

However, once you are transferred to an ambulance (air or land), that ambulance company MAY charge you. In most cases, your medical insurance provider will cover an ambulance ride. best to check with them directly. here is a local example from CO:

person climbing grey's peak falls and breaks leg @13k ft. rescue team dispatched and performs scree evac to landing zone for helo. subject loaded on helo and flown to nearest trauma center.

if the above example was me, i would pay $0 for the activity of the rescue team and $200 for the helo flight (based on my insurance).

hope this helps!

Josh Allred · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 165

Interesting.

Looks like SAR for SL County: slsheriff.org/page_sar_home…

Intermountain MAR Teams: mra.org/all-teams/inter-mou…

curt86iroc · · Golden, CO · Joined Dec 2014 · Points: 63

many states are different and some have rescue teams that are not accredited by the MRA and will charge for a rescue (ex. NH). these teams are the minority, and it is a strong belief in the rescue world that not charging has major benefits.

of note, all MRA teams are 100% volunteer based and rely on contributions from state and local SAR funds, grants and donations from the public. consider throwing them a bone once in a while :)

Old lady H · · Boise, Idaho · Joined Aug 2015 · Points: 290

My understanding, in talking with my EMT and SAR son:

Search and rescue is run with much the same structure as any other first responder, and are part of the emergency response plan. Ours respond at the request of the sheriff for the county requesting assistance, and they are called in even for things like evidence searches by law enforcement. They are also trained annually with the military Blackhawk guys.

While the search organization never charges, if you are blatantly stupid enough the sheriff has the option to charge you. Neither of us recalls that ever happening here, even with some pretty drunken stupidity. However, growing up in Oregon, I'm pretty sure people going up Hood when told not to, may have been fined.

As stated, once you are rescued, then it becomes a medical issue, and your health insurance comes into play.

That also has parameters. Generally, if the paramedic calls for an ambulance/helo, that is part of determining a medical emergency.

Our local SAR team makes most of their funding selling corn on the cob at the state Fair. They are all volunteers, buy their own personal gear (his packs are impressive, plus snowshoes, crampons, all the climbing jazz, etc.), and train a huge amount, all weather, all conditions. They have specialists, such as dog teams, and trackers.

They get called in to really tough conditions, again, no pay. His extremes have included days long searches for a private plane crash in the mountains, in very severe winter weather, and, on the other end, horrible terrain and heat for a missing hikers search at Craters of the Moon (lava fields). Both were huge searches, with many groups involved.

My bottom line? However your SAR does their fundraising, consider being generous.

And hope you never need them.

Best, Helen

eli poss · · Durango, Co · Joined May 2014 · Points: 456

If I understand it correctly, SAR will never charge you unless the expense of rescues for that year goes over their annual budget, which almost never happens. In the county in which I live, you can donate to the SAR and receive a card that gives you higher priority over others if it comes to charging for a rescue.

Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

Overall domestic U.S., there is no charge for ground SAR, regardless of any budget.
There may be charge if the activity was deemed criminal conduct.

Exceptions have occurred in certain states. NH did for "aggressive" hiking off trail, which I don't think was challenged at a federal level, it may have been settled prior to that. Some states, such as CO, have a fire authority clause that allows non-SAR response to try and charge. Some sheriffs will try to indirectly pass-through the charge for using a heli, notable being off-piste skiing that ends in rescue response. Even though there is an overall state or federal humanitarian mandate not to charge, some areas will ignore it and charge anyway, so know your area. Some view that simply being in the mountains asking for rescue aid is negligent in itself (not that it would actually hold up, but most people don't understand enough about the process to challenge it).

NPS, Natl Guard, and Coast Guard do not charge, unless its criminal conduct.

Medical care is always a charge, but a medical heli used only for locate and rescue support is considered within SAR.

The card fund doesn't give you a priority or any insurance, but it gives the rescue effort/agencies involved a priority in cost reimbursement over those rescued that did not have a card (or other recognized license instrument of a given general SAR fund). This is a concern because it essentially delays cost reimbursement for a significant amount of time, obviously having a card/license is better for everyone.

From what I've seen, the medical costs are far more a financial concern than anything. But, that's a whole other discussion on the future of where universal care and private insurance ends up going in this country.

kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,659
curt86iroc wrote:However, once you are transferred to an ambulance (air or land), that ambulance company MAY charge you.
Yes that sounds right.
... and ...
For Air ambulance, in some U.S. states the charge might be tens of thousands of dollars. With much less than half covered by your insurance.

And that might be so even if you were never offered a choice about whether to use Air evacuation.

Check your insurance plan carefully.
. . (and your State's laws and court decisions).

Ken

P.S. Better yet, don't get hurt so bad that you need to get rescued. Because the long-term impact on your life and career and family might be much much bigger than the (high) cost of the Air ambulance.
. . (If you're worried about the cost of the rescue and evacuation/ambulance, you should also be looking at Long Term Disability insurance).
Josh Allred · · Salt Lake City, UT · Joined Mar 2011 · Points: 165

Thanks for posting everyone.

This has given me some good info to chew on.

Of course, I don't ever want to be in a situation where I do need to call SAR. But I don't want to put any financial burden on my wife and kid because I made a mistake in the mountains (or something happen that is out of my control).

Insurance isn't replacing good judgement.

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175
kenr wrote: Yes that sounds right. ... and ... For Air ambulance, in some U.S. states the charge might be tens of thousands of dollars. With much less than half covered by your insurance.
i would stress people confirm this bit of info with their insurance company, as i did.

i confirmed that both ambulance and helicopter evacuation would be fully covered by my medical insurance company in the event of an emergency (this includes non-life threatening injuries such as broken bone). i fully laid out the exact scenario without sugar coating it and it was confirmed to be fully covered and considered "in-network" even if it is not, as long as it is an emergency.
Daniel T · · Riverside, Ca · Joined Mar 2015 · Points: 35
Jake wander wrote: i would stress people confirm this bit of info with their insurance company, as i did. i confirmed that both ambulance and helicopter evacuation would be fully covered by my medical insurance company in the event of an emergency (this includes non-life threatening injuries such as broken bone). i fully laid out the exact scenario without sugar coating it and it was confirmed to be fully covered and considered "in-network" even if it is not, as long as it is an emergency.
Maybe this is better requested in a PM. But could you provide me a better example of what you did when you contacted your insurance company?

Did you tell them you might be out rock climbing, slip and fall and break your leg. Then you might need a ride via helo or ambulance to the hospital?

This is something I have recently began to think about after seeing so many issues here on MP.
Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175
Daniel T wrote: Maybe this is better requested in a PM. But could you provide me a better example of what you did when you contacted your insurance company? Did you tell them you might be out rock climbing, slip and fall and break your leg. Then you might need a ride via helo or ambulance to the hospital? This is something I have recently began to think about after seeing so many issues here on MP.
here is some background and then the info requested:
since i now have a family depending on me (son will be 1 in a couple weeks!), the stories i heard of others getting strong-armed into +$10k heli rides, and being involved in a rescue on denali which required a heli ride, i decided i needed to know exactly what would happen if i were the one getting a lift.

late every year an employee from the health insurance company (medica) provided by my emlpoyer, comes out and gives updates to the coming years' plan and will answer any questions 1 on 1. I met with him and posed the most likely expensive scenario for me, climbing in the backcountry in CO (i live in MN), fall, get injured need heli rescue and treatment in out of network hospital in CO.

he confirmed that heli is considered ambulance and ambulance is fully covered under my plan if it is for an emergency. i was worried by what would qualify as an emergency so had him confirm that it did not need to be life threatening but needed to require immediate attention and that a broken bone (or the concern that one is broken) would qualify. things like a cold (which many people apparently go to the doctor for) would not qualify. the last couple sentences also apply to out of network coverage. again if it is an emergency, all treatment is treated as if it were in network (from a cost YOU pay perspective). they dont want people getting injured or very sick on some vacation and trying to make the drive back home to attempt to get in network.

he also confirmed that this would apply to any activity; walking down the street, skiing etc.
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,659
Jake wander wrote:... an employee from the health insurance company (medica) provided by my employer, comes out and gives updates to the coming years' plan and will answer any questions 1 on 1.
That's very helpful specifics.

But I would also push the insurance company employee to show me where it is written (or clearly implied) in the insurance contract that air ambulance / evacuation is fully covered -- and what the exceptions might be (which might be found in some other section of the contract - might be called "Exceptions" or something).

Failing that, might want to get the insurance company employee (or agent) to write down their interpretation (and sign it).

. . Sometimes I have been told things by insurance company employees or agents that were misleading or just wrong).

Later when you submit a claim, insurance company management will deny and claim that their representative could not have said that, and the written contract plainly states otherwise.

Ken

P.S. Most insurance contracts nowadays are not that difficult to read and understand (if you find the right places in the document).
kenr · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Oct 2010 · Points: 11,659
Jake wander wrote:i now have a family depending on me (son will be 1 in a couple weeks!)
So do you now also have Long Term Disability insurance through your employer?

If you find you need it after some climbing accident, that's going to worth way way more than paying for a helicopter evacuation.

Ken
Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175

i went back and looked up the plan after meeting with the employee to attempt to confirm what was said. like he mentioned "Emergency Medical Transportation" is covered in full, it does not specifically say heli flights but the fact that it doesnt just say ambulance and the rest of what he had told me (in regards to out of network charges) were all listed correctly, i decided i had dug far enough, for me.

EDIT: it also lists limits and exceptions under Emergency Medical Transportation" as "none"

but youre right, i am encouraging everyone who has concerns to contact their health insurance provider before purchasing secondary coverage. my coverage may be much better/worse than someone else's and someone else may deem more investigation necessary.

Jake wander · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Aug 2014 · Points: 175
kenr wrote: So do you now also have Long Term Disability insurance through your employer? If you find you need it after some climbing accident, that's going to worth way way more than paying for a helicopter evacuation. Ken
i do have both short and long term disability along with life insurance. this is a road that has so many forks in it, its hardly worth getting into my situation, as it can vary so much.
Buff Johnson · · Unknown Hometown · Joined Dec 2005 · Points: 1,145

the experiences I had with BC/BS was indeed BS.. They had four categories each with their own deductible, two in network and two out of network. So they just spread the total cost over all four to max out each deductible, regardless of what was in or out of network (which everything I used as a facility was in-network in the first place), and done at the top-dollar amount, not the "negotiated" amount. I guess thank god at that time it wasn't a pre-existing condition concern. Luckily able to go back to my university and had the whole thing reclassified and submitted under different plan.

Will never pay another premium or authorize an employer based plan that pays for employee premium to use BC/BS.

SMarsh · · NY, NY · Joined Sep 2013 · Points: 3

An additional thought: The Affordable Care Act as well as other legislation create the definitions for certain terms. One of them is "Emergency Medical Transportation".

And, contrary to popular belief, you don't have to be covered under an "Obamacare" policy to have those definitions apply. The insurer of an employer may be required to provide minimum standards of care, similar to the requirement for preventive healthcare.

The definition of "Emergency Medical Transportation" under the Affordable Care Act is:

"Ambulance services for an emergency medical condition."

It doesn't say "air ambulance". It could be included, excluded or limited in some way other than the obvious.

So, you still might want to have a more deep and meaningful discussion with your insurer and get something in writing, as the insurer can always refer back to ACA guidelines (or other legislation).

An additional issue is whether the procedure or transport was "medically necessary", defined as

"Health care services or supplies needed to diagnose or treat an illness, injury, condition, disease or its symptoms and that meet accepted standards of medicine."

While you may argue that you didn't get a choice of transport or locations to be transported, the insurer might argue that given X injuries that the choice was not a medically necessary one and in fact is not covered.

You might win on both clauses and you might get covered. But it's a harsh world out there sometimes.

john strand · · southern colo · Joined May 2008 · Points: 1,640

The problem can arise ( as discussed in another thread) when you need a transfer to another facility.

You get rescued from castleton and it's a helicopter. You going to moab to get patched up and require more care (heart, stroke etc..) Then you are getting transfered to grand Junction or SLC

Your insurance may cover this second trip or maybe not. If they do, there's typically a max charge ($7500) that they will pay...the med flight people can and will come looking for the rest My flight was $43,000

Arlo F Niederer · · Colorado Springs, CO · Joined Mar 2009 · Points: 460

I was a volunteer on Teton County SAR in Jackson Hole for 12 years and served on the board of directors for 6 years. I was also a volunteer ALS EMT on Jackson Hole Fire/EMS.

Your question doesn't have a black or white answer...

The average cost per hour for our contract helicopter was $1500. Most rescues required less than 2 hours of helicopter time. If the helicopter was used for a search, considerably more hours were used.

For most rescues, there was no charge for the helicopter. However, if the rescue was caused by your negligence, you might receive a bill for the helicopter. It's in the same fuzzy "negligence" legal sphere that many disputes arise.

We didn't have a separate medical helicopter, but could convert our helicopter to carry a patient. If it was a medical rescue, there would be at least one EMT on the helicopter, maybe two or maybe an ER doctor (at the time, we had 7 EMTs and 2 ER docs as members of the team). You would not be charged for the medical care you received from SAR.

We would either fly directly back to the hospital, or an ambulance would meet us at a staging area. Once you were in the ambulance, the typical ambulance charge would apply. If your injuries were beyond what the local hospital could handle, you would be put on a Life Flight to Idaho Falls or Salt Lake City. As you can imagine, these bills rack up really fast - to $100,000 or more.

In Wyoming, local Sheriff's offices are legally obligated to provide rescues. The state of Wyoming helps the counties by maintaining a state SAR fund to reimburse the county for SAR. The fund is maintained by an optional $1 fee on fishing, hunting, and snowmobile permits. Highly recommended you contribute the $1!

Unfortunately, it's more complicated than that. We contracted a helicopter from November through late April. From June through October, the forest service has two helicopters on contract for firefighting and rescues in Grand Teton national park. However, if we needed a chopper for a rescue outside of the park, we could use theirs if they were not firefighting. Since it was covered by the Park service, there was no charge for the helicopter. We had a reciprocal agreement so the park could use our helicopter in the winter if they needed it.

As far as figuring out what insurance will cover - good luck with that one!

Guideline #1: Don't be a jerk.

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