What is an air ambulance?

Air ambulances are medical transport aircraft such as helicopters or airplanes that take patients to medical facilities. Like regular ground ambulances, air ambulances have medical equipment, paramedics, and emergency medical technicians. An air ambulance is usually called when a ground ambulance can’t reach a patient or get to them fast enough. According to the National Association of Insurance Commissioners (NAIC), more than 550,000 patients in the United States use air ambulance services every year.

Some health insurance policies have coverage for this service, but many don’t. It’s important to understand how air ambulance insurance coverage works and what your health insurance policy covers.

When are air ambulances used?

Air ambulances are used to quickly transport patients in life-threatening medical situations or to transport between hospitals. They are often used in cases involving stroke, heart attack, respiratory diseases, pregnancy complications, severe burns, head injury, spinal cord injury, or other traumatic injuries.

How much does an air ambulance flight cost?

Using air ambulances can be expensive. According to the NAIC, an average cost for one air ambulance flight is tens-of-thousands of dollars. The cost will vary based on the type of aircraft, the air ambulance company used, the services provided by the air ambulance, and the travel distance to the hospital.

Does my insurance cover it?

Air ambulance costs may be covered in your health insurance policy or in a travel insurance policy, but there are situations where you may not be covered or your insurance company will only pay for part of the cost. Do not assume insurance will pay for the full cost of an air ambulance. You will likely have out-of-pocket costs based on the deductibles and coinsurance amounts in your policy.

If your insurance company does not approve a doctor’s recommendation for the air ambulance as medically necessary, you may not be covered. You may also only be covered if you are within a certain number of miles from an airstrip or airport.

Additionally, if the air ambulance company is not part of your insurance company’s network of providers, then the insurer and air ambulance company may disagree on the cost of the service, and you could be responsible for the remainder of the bill or possibly the entire amount.

*️⃣  Medicare may pay for air ambulance services to the nearest medical facility if the emergency occurs in the United States and requires immediate and rapid transportation.

patients use air ambulances every year

What you can do to protect yourself:

Find out if you're covered

Read your insurance policy or contact your agent to understand what air ambulance coverage you currently have.

Assess your potential need for an air ambulance

If you live in a rural area, are planning on traveling, or have a health condition that may require rapid transport to a medical facility, you may have a higher risk of needing an air ambulance if there is a medical emergency and may want to consider purchasing additional coverage.

Understand your potential out-of-pocket costs

If you think you are more likely to need air ambulance services, you may want to look at policies with lower deductibles and coinsurance amounts for those services.

*️⃣  To learn more about health insurance, visit The Basics, Shopping Guide, and Using Your Insurance sections of our website.