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  1. #1
    Join Date
    Dec 2019
    Location
    Auburn, CA
    Posts
    7

    Question Is life flight insurance necessary?

    Hi all, I just purchase a Zoleo satellite communicator. It's my first such device. I have been wanting to buy one for a while, especially after a backcountry fly fishing trip went wrong at 9 pm 2 miles up the Rubicon river. While I was heading home I was hiking out on a goat trail that was barely noticeable. Took a step and there was nothing there (wearing felt soled wading shoes didn't help). My left leg slipped and I tumbled downhill bouncing off rocks and ultimately coming to rest in a tangle of black berry bushes.

    I tried to get up but my leg was in enough pain that it made me think twice. Somehow on the way down I busted my fibula. Don't know how. All I remember was bouncing off the rocks and hitting my head hard enough that I could hear it. I've broken enough bones to know that when I see stars I need to just relax and breath deep. After a few minutes I manged to get on my feet and tried to call for help but no cell service! Damn! So I gathered my fly rod (now in pieces) and started to hobble out using my wading staff as a cane. The Rubicon, in case you aren't familiar, is way the fuck out there. It's rocky as can be. I had to climb over rocks the size of a sprinter van and slide down without breaking more bones. Where I could find calmer water I found it easier to swim.

    My leg is better now -- still hurts from time to time and I ski toured all season with the pain. Luckily my scarpas held it in place just right that it was manageable. But some recent sketchy BC trips around Carson Pass had me thinking about getting the device so this week I bought one. I was also on castle peak hiking last Sunday and watched the CHP chopper land in round valley to get the para-glider that went down in the trees near Peter Grub hut. That really reminded me to stop procrastinating.

    But to my question: I'm a little confused as to what I should do about insurance coverage for when I do press that button and need a life flight. I've seen many conflicting reports where some people say you don't need it because its covered by some local public SAR fund. And some say your health insurance will cover it. Some say you need the GEOS basic insurance. While others say you need the GEOS High Risk insurance. There's a big difference in price between the GEOS plans. What are you guys from northern California that have a PLB/Satellite device doing for insurance?

  2. #2
    Join Date
    Dec 2004
    Location
    Amherst, Mass.
    Posts
    4,252
    Yipes, sorry to hear about that incident!

    I too spent a lot of time many years ago puzzling over different insurance options.
    Fortunately, the best solution is still this:
    https://aacuk.org.uk/
    Sounds totally weird at first to insure yourself against U.S. SAR costs by buying insurance from the UK section of a continental European nation's alpine club, but it's definitely better than anything out there.
    (And no, a local public SAR fund will not necessarily cover a helicopter evac, especially from a private for-profit company. Health insurance will definitely cover medical care, but a backcountry rescue seems unlikely to be covered. I have not looked at the recent GEOS offerings. And the American Alpine Club is more like a rescue plan rather than rescue insurance, since they have to initiate the rescue.)
    For those stuck in the Northeast, check out the NE Rando Race Series and my avalanche course. (For other avalanche course providers anywhere, feel free to use any of my "homework" assignments for your own courses too.)

  3. #3
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Spokane/Schweitzer
    Posts
    5,448
    I've not had cause to use it but, I have Life Flight insurance and have for....15 years(?). My health insurance won't cover air evac and whether SAR would cover, I would say no. Maybe it would, depending on circumstances but there are many air ambulance events that don't involve SAR. For example, you get hurt badly at your local ski hill. Often times, patrol or the doctor on call will call for air evac.

    This happened with a friend of mine whose 17 year old kid broke a femur at Schweitzer. Life Flight was called in and he was evac'd to Spokane. The bill my friend received was $9,000 with no insurance coverage. If you have money, you will be obligated to pay. This kind of evacuation happens pretty regularly. Same thing with auto accidents in more remote locations and it's not generally covered by health insurance. For the cost of a policy (3 years for $150 for a family membership, if I recall correctly), it's cheap insurance.

  4. #4
    Join Date
    Aug 2006
    Posts
    5,118
    Where I live, helicopter ambulance service is very common due to ground vehicle access. My employer insurance coverage changed every year. It has taken me substantial digging (calls and emails) every year to confirm if it’s covered. If it’s covered, I still have to deal with my deductible. “Out of network” deductible fee drastically increases every year. My current thought is that the relatively cheap secondary coverage is very worthwhile.

  5. #5
    Join Date
    May 2006
    Location
    Flavor Country
    Posts
    2,645
    Here in Colorado a CORSAR card helps defray the costs to volunteer SAR teams, and while not technically insurance, it sort of works that way. But it only covers getting you to a trailhead, which can include helo rescue and transport to a trailhead, but does not cover transport that ends at a hospital.

    Example: You fall and break your leg on Capital Peak, local SAR calls HAATS (Colorado Army National Guard High-Altitude ARNG Aviation Training, where the military sends lots of helo pilots for high altitude training), they like rescues for extra training time. HAATS won't land a Blackhawk at a hospital or fly you directly to Denver/Junction if you need it, so they pluck you off Capital and then drop you at the Aspen/Pitkin airport to get in an ambulance or Flight for Life. All of that would be "covered" by a CORSAR card. But as soon as they put you in the ambulance or the Flight for Life you (or your insurance) are on the hook.
    "They don't think it be like it is, but it do."

  6. #6
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    truckee
    Posts
    13,233
    It entirely depends on your insurance and on the policy of the particular SAR re any costs not covered by insurance. I have Kaiser Senior Advantage (medigap coverage for Medicare patients) --it covers whatever it takes to get me to the hospital from wherever I am. I had an accident at the Resort Formerly Known as Squaw Valley that involved an ambulance to Truckee, another ambulance to Reno, and a fixed wing air ambulance to Sacramento which involved ambulance rides to and from the airports. All covered. I've never been evacuated by helicopter from the backcountry but as best as I can tell it's covered. In the US or abroad.

    Not all Kaiser policies are the same. I have no copays or deductibles--I don't know if that's the case for all Senior Advantage policies or not. For non seniors I know that policies have different copays and deductibles. I don't know if they all cover helicopter evac but I'm going to guess that they do.

  7. #7
    Join Date
    Dec 2019
    Location
    Auburn, CA
    Posts
    7
    Okay, thanks for the info guys. I'm going to check with Kaiser. I have a "Gold" plan so we'll see what they say. Though for ~$50 per year, Life Flight doesn't seem too bad as a just in case Kaiser finds way not to pay kinda deal.

  8. #8
    Join Date
    Apr 2006
    Location
    Spokane/Schweitzer
    Posts
    5,448
    My rate was around $50 per year (actually don't remember exactly what but it's cheap). YMMV where you are, though so make sure to follow through with a quote on it.

  9. #9
    Join Date
    Jan 2008
    Location
    truckee
    Posts
    13,233
    Quote Originally Posted by cosmoKenney View Post
    Okay, thanks for the info guys. I'm going to check with Kaiser. I have a "Gold" plan so we'll see what they say. Though for ~$50 per year, Life Flight doesn't seem too bad as a just in case Kaiser finds way not to pay kinda deal.
    My experience with Kaiser--back when I was a private doc billing Kaiser--and as a patient is that Kaiser plays by the book and doesn't try to get out of paying. Years ago I dislocated my shoulder. Alpine called an ambulance I didn't need--my cousins could have driven me. Kaiser paid the bill. My son wrecked his bike in MD and was in the ER. The ER grossly upcoded (ie overcharged) his care. Kaiser said we're disputing the charge but you don't have to worry about it. Don't know the outcome. I was getting bills for some of the stuff related to my accident--bills that should have been going to Kaiser. Kaiser took care of them while I waited on hold on the phone.

    Certainly no harm in checking with them that coverage for Life Flight is the same whether you're at the side of the road or in the BC. I did take out rescue insurance when I was skiing in the Alps. 5E per day seemed worth it not to have to try and pay and submit the bill to Kaiser, especially since I would have probably been over the limit on my CC.

  10. #10
    Join Date
    Oct 2009
    Location
    Meiss Meadows
    Posts
    1,431

    Is life flight insurance necessary?

    I did not see a bill for the 1st short CalFire helicopter ride.
    CalStar accepted Medicare’s written down 80% payment and my other insurance paid the remaining 20% (deductibles satisfied elsewhere). Same with the ambulance.

    If I was a kid again, I would get the rescue insurance.

    ps. The 86 mile flight was >$69K.
    Last edited by powdrhound; 06-28-2020 at 06:42 PM.

  11. #11
    Join Date
    Jan 2019
    Location
    59715
    Posts
    1,945
    I lived in the Santa Cruz mountains for 8 years and was on the fire and rescue for five, and this is how it worked for our AO.

    Any car, MC, or bike crash response, day or night, auto-launched an air ambulance resource out of either Stanford or San Jose, where the closest level 1 trauma care was. If we needed assistance with an over the side rescue or short haul from a bad spot, the CDF (Cal Fire) or Coast Guard flying coke machine would pick the patient and drop them on flat ground, and then we would transport if needed to the nearest LZ for the life flight.

    I never heard of anyone getting charged for the CG or Cal Fire helo ride, but I do know some people got a big surprise from the life flight bill.

    If I was doing high risk fun stuff in kinda remote to way remote places, I would get the medevac insurance.

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