[Editor's Note: This is the fourth of several articles on the Grant County Commission work session and regular meeting on Nov. 16 and Nov. 18, 2021. This article begins with an update from Air Methods.]

By Mary Alice Murphy

The first presentation of the Grant County Commission work session on Nov. 16, 2021, which covered the redistricting of the commission maps can be read at https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/68669-grant-county-commission-hears-first-of-five-presentations-at-work-session-111621-part-1. The following link covers the update on the Grant County Outdoor Recreation and Trails Master Plan: https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/68672-grant-county-commission-hears-second-of-five-presentations-at-work-session-111621-part-2 . The third link leads to the discussion of a proposed disc golf course on state trust land: https://www.grantcountybeat.com/news/news-articles/68699-grant-county-commission-hears-third-of-five-presentations-at-work-session-111621-part-3

Air Methods, which provides air ambulance service to Gila Regional Medical Center and the community gave a presentation on their services at the Grant County Commission work session on No. 16, 2021.

J. P. Martinez, manager for Native Air Methods; Kimberly Barragan, clinical lead and flight nurse; and Lea Castagnon-Muñoz, area account executive, spoke.

"For us, we have a medical transport helicopter here in Silver City, with a range of 150 nautical miles, but we are not limited to that," Martinez said. "Yes, we have backup with a helicopter with three rotors and a fixed wing aircraft in El Paso and Carlsbad. A team consists of the flight nurse, the flight paramedic, the pilot and a mechanic. We can do emergency room-type procedures on board. Our team members are residents here. When we pick up a patient, we immediately start the stabilization, and we take further care before we drop them off at the destination. We take the lead in the industry with patient advocacy for each person after transport; we want to be in network for about 50 percent of the patients; and we also do a lot of community partnerships in New Mexico. We transport the patient and talk about advocacy. As soon as the patient is transported, the patient receives the patient advocacy brochure from the flight crew or hospital. The only thing sometimes needed is the power of attorney. An informational packet is also sent to their home shortly after transport."

He explained the payment procedures. Martinez noted that Medicare Part A does not cover air medical services, but the company will assist the patient in applying or qualifying for Medicaid. Medicare Part B does pay 80 percent of the allowable, with a 20 percent co-pay by the patient or if the patient has supplemental or secondary insurance that can be billed. He said advocates will help those who are uninsured to possible resources, such as Medicaid. For those with private insurance, the advocate will help the patient and if the claim is denied, the advocate can deal with the insurance company on the patient's behalf.

"Each patient has a dedicated advocate who partners with them through the billing and appeal process from beginning to end," Martinez assured the commissioners. "We also have a flexible charity policy."

He noted that the average patient out-of-pocket cost remains at $137 for New Mexico and "our continuing focus on going 100 percent in network. Only about 5 percent still receive a bill. We have worked hard on formal communication. Every patient is different."

Although some air ambulance providers offer memberships, Air Methods has concerns about memberships, such as a member getting better service. "We believe that advocacy is better because it works for the individual patient."

As for the January 2022 decision by the government on "no surprise billing. We are ahead of that. We make sure we are compassionate. We have prioritized empathy."

Barragan said they attended the meeting to "demystify that Air Methods costs a lot. We want to make sure that people know they can climb into a helicopter with no concerns."

"Please read out to us with your questions or concerns," Castagnon-Muñoz said.

District 1 Commissioner and Chair Chris Ponce said when he and District 3 Commissioner Alicia Edwards "met with you, we appreciated what you had to say. You hear it's going to cost $50,000 or $60,000. We appreciate that it is not what we perceive it to be."

Edwards said the conversation completely changed her mind. "I agree with Chairman Ponce that at the side of the road after an accident, you do not need to be concerned about the cost."

District 4 Commissioner Billy Billings asked who calls Air Methods.

Barragan replied sometimes it's the hospital, for example to transport someone for a cauterization. Sometimes, it's law enforcement, because the incident is too far from anywhere. "You, as a resident, do have the capability to call 911 and ask for the helicopter."

Martinez clarified that if "we get called too early, it can be canceled. Often the ambulance or law enforcement can get the work done enough to determine when our service is needed."

The next article will address the last presentation, which talked about a new Hidalgo Medical Services clinic in Mimbres.

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