Transport details: Planes to Idaho Falls
Bill: Between $60,000 and $70,000 each
Insurance: Blue Cross Blue Shield of Wyoming
Air ambulance provider: Unsure
Insurance reimbursement: Full
Paid: $10,000 deductible each time
Dr. David Shlim was backcountry skiing on Teton Pass in 2013 when he had a heart attack.
After a Teton County Search and Rescue helicopter, which doesn’t charge patients to fly, rescued Shlim from the pass, he still needed transport to Eastern Idaho Regional Medical Center. Stormy weather prevented a second helicopter from making a hospital-to-hospital transfer from St. John’s Medical Center to the Idaho hospital. So St. John’s had to take him to the airport in an ambulance, where a fixed-wing airplane flew him to Idaho Falls.
Luckily, he survived with minor scarring in his heart and wasn’t on the hook to pay anything more than his health insurance deductible.
“It was covered,” Shlim said, “and I remembered being grateful.”
In 2015 his son Matthew fell and hit his head, leading to life-threatening brain bleeding. Again, weather prevented a more direct helicopter ride to Idaho Falls, and, like his father, Matthew had to take a fixed-wing air ambulance from the airport. The neurosurgeon later told Shlim that if his son had arrived five minutes later, he might not have lived.
“It was five hours from when he hit his head to get him into surgery in Idaho Falls,” David Shlim said. “Usually that’s too long. It was kind of a miracle that he survived. If it hadn’t been available, if he’d gone by ground or whatever, he would’ve died and that would’ve been it.”
Again, Matthew Shlim met the deductible and insurance covered the rest.
David Shlim knows the importance of air rescue and medical evacuations. He served as the medical director of the Himalayan Rescue Association for 10 years and worked as a doctor running the world’s busiest destination travel clinic in Kathmandu, Nepal, for 15 years. He’s also familiar with insurance companies challenging “medical necessity” and in Nepal provided letters of justification for trekkers.
He recognizes the need for air ambulance services in rural communities in Wyoming and abroad.
“There are so many reasons for being evacuated,” he said. “If they can’t, it’s sometimes a death sentence for somebody. It’s got to be available. There’s always going to be a need for air ambulances if people in Jackson are going to have access to care that’s a standard for the U.S.”