Rep. Raul Ruiz, D-CA 36, visited Hemet Fire Station 4 at Hemet Ryan Airport Tuesday, May 9, to assure Mercy Flight crews that he is forwarding a bipartisan bill to increase financial assistance to emergency air services particularly in rural and underserved areas.
Ruiz, a physician himself who said he had trained in air rescue missions, met with the Mercy Flight crews stationed at the Hemet fire station and took a 10-minute air ambulance ride above the Hemet San Jacinto Valley to get an update on the emergency medical treatment provided during a mercy flight.
On arrival at the airport station, Ruiz shook hands with each of the crew and officers, thanking them for their service in rescuing hundreds of seriously injured or ill persons and quickly flying them to needed medical care at hospitals many miles away.
He emphasized in his visit that in medical emergency care “minutes matter,” and this urgency is the reason to support and maintain air ambulance services like Mercy Air.
“In medical transport, you get a patient to treatment that can prevent them from having a permanent disability as fast as you can and that saves a lot of cost throughout the life span of a patient,” Ruiz explained, citing his experience as a medical doctor.
One of the problems in maintaining emergency air ambulance services, commonly called “life flights,” is the high cost of the service, including the aircraft, medical personnel needed, pilots and aviation fuel. These costs, upward of $11,000 for each flight, are not fully compensated by most of the more popular medical care insurance programs, like Medicare or Medicaid.
Carolyn Mayle, vice president of government affairs for Air Methods, Mercy Air’s parent company, said most people who need the air ambulance services have the latter two medical insurance programs. Medicare provides about $6,000 for the service while Medicaid only provides $3,000 in compensation.
She indicated that increasing the two programs reimbursement amount would be a huge help in keeping the air ambulance services operational.
Ruiz agreed that keeping the aeromedical transport services is “a very pragmatic need that many, many people throughout the United States require because they do not have the tertiary care and the specialty trauma centers within their region. The only way to get there is to be flown. This is the dilemma people face in rural America.”
He noted that in the Riverside and San Bernardino area which he represents the greatest need is hospitals that have Pediatric Intensive Care Units, and that Loma Linda University or St. Bernadine hospitals are the nearest to the desert areas. Any child with a serious illness or injury must take a life-flight to get the care they need. Ruiz has seen this need firsthand in his pediatric practice.
He said he was concerned about Congress dismantling the Affordable Care Act suggesting that many people in California with Medicare and Medicaid could see a serious cutback in their medical insurance programs if the new plan isn’t changed in the Senate or when returned to the House.
He said he hoped to work in a bipartisan manner with the Republican Legislature in the cost and the cost savings that aeromedical services offer to the nation and “to introduce a bill in a bipartisan manner to insure that we meet the needs of our patients who require emergency transport.”
Attending the congressman’s visit were city officials, Hemet Fire Chief Scott Brown, the news media, many local paramedics and firefighters, Mercy Air executives and others.