August 29, 2009

What made your experience with Angel Medflight different from other air ambulance companies?

I had very little experience with any other air ambulance companies. Or, better put: the two calls I did make, and the responses by those people, were rather brief; each called me back with the quote of an enormous sum of money, which put the whole idea out of the realm of possibility.

A little history: Ariel has Blue Cross/Blue Shield of Massachusetts. I had stayed in the States to deal with things here, and I had daily contact with Blue Card, the international arm of Blue Cross (Mondial Assistance). (Ariel's mother and grandmother were in France, staying at a hotel near the hospital.)

After Ariel had been in the ICU for about ten days, and had been transferred to the orthopedic floor, Blue Card calls me and says:"She is ready to fly to Boston where she desperately needed the adequate care not available in France, on an air ambulance".

I was overjoyed.

For about ten seconds.

Blue Card continued, telling me that Ariel's policy "does not pay for repatriation."

They told me how much the flight would cost ($58,000 for a stretcher and medical person on a regular flight, more for an air ambulance.), and that the family would have to pay for it.

They added that we could appeal this, and indicated that they would start this appeal process.

The next two weeks were horrendous: first, Beaujon Hospital in France did NOT feel Ariel should be moved at the time that Blue Card had said she could.

I did not hear back from Blue Card about the appeal. And my calls to several air ambulance places only informed me about the huge expense.

Then it appeared that Ariel could be moved, on a stretcher, and I pressed Blue Card to find out the results of the appeal.

It was only after the Angel MedFlight crew told me to press Blue Card for a response (as they have a fiduciary legal obligation under ERISA – The federal law governing most health insurance plans) that BlueCross of Massachusetts provided a response that was completely erroneous and not in compliance with ERISA.

Now our family was starting to get frantic to get Ariel to Boston. She was cognitively disorganized (brain swelling from the accident) and was in a room in a hospital with everyone around her speaking French. She was miserable, didn't know where she was, and we had questions about the care she was getting, now that she was no longer in the ICU.

Around this time, a friend of the family mentioned Angel Medflight. While I didn't think calling would be any different than the other air ambulance places I had called, I did place the call.

A woman named Chandra answered, and when I told her briefly about my plight, she said "We are passionate about this". She took my number and said someone would call me back.

And call me back they did, two calls, one, and a message on my voice-mail from Jeremy Freer, who told me he was the CEO of Angel Medflight.

I talked to Jeremy, and it was not long before he said "We can get her."

Now, this felt hard to believe. I told Jeremy that Ariel's mother was on SSDI that the family would be financially depressed by paying for such services. Jeremy said both that he wanted to do this, but, also, that he was a businessman and he would rather ensure that the premiums we pay to our BlueCross Massachusetts plan serves to ensure we get the coverage we are entitled under the BlueCross BlueShield MA Plan.

I wasn't sure what to do. I called Blue Card again, this time telling them that if I did not hear back from them about the appeal that I was going to go with a private air ambulance (Angel MedFlight).

They then quickly warned me to be careful, that they had heard about customers getting 'fleeced", that I should see the expenses for the whole itinerary, ambulance from the hospital etc. BlueCross or Mondial slandered the air ambulance program, once again.

They told me they would get back to me the next day about the appeal.

The next day they told me Blue Cross still refused to pay.

At this point, I again talked to Jeremy, and he sounded pretty positive.

Two days later I received this written letter from Blue Cross spelling out the reasons for refusing to fly Ariel to Massachusetts. I faxed this to Chandra. When I again spoke to Jeremy, it seemed to me that he did not sound as positive as he had before.

I resigned myself to flying over to France and staying there with Ariel's grandmother until Ariel could fly Boston on a regular plane, knowing that that might be a long time.

The next day came a call I will not ever forget: It was Chandra. She asked me "Want some good news?" "Sure" I said.

"We're getting her".

I was floored, speechless. Then sobbing.

That was on Friday.

And 'get her' you did:

By Sunday night Angel Medflight wheeled Ariel into the ICU at Brigham and Women's Hospital in Boston.

And she has made a miraculous recovery since then: surrounded by family and friends (speaking English) 24/7. It made all the difference.

So, in answer to your question: what was different was that Jeremy really wanted to get her to Boston where she desperately needed the adequate care not available in France. And Angel MedFlight made a calculated decision to represent my family in order to ensure that BlueCross BlueShield Massachusetts held to their fiduciary legal obligations under federal insurance laws.

But was also willing to take the chance, to help this young woman and her family.

I might not have gotten the chronology of the calls with Angel Medflight, and Jeremy's words, just right, but what I do so distinctly remember is how I felt I could trust what Chandra was saying, that you "were passionate about this"; and how profoundly grateful I was when I heard those words:"We're getting her."

So I guess I could say that what was different was that Angel Medflight REALLY CARED.

I mean REALLY cared.

This was clear from my first call.

And, believe me; it was actually quite hard to believe you were for real; that this wasn't a trick of some kind;

A company that does things because they sincerely want to help? What a concept.

In fact, it can sound so unbelievable, that I told you that I wanted speak with Stephan Hill's wife, Tanya Hill (view the story on ABC here) so I could tell her that Angel Medflight was for real. Another air ambulance trip Angel MedFlight performed that BlueCross BlueShield initially denied. Angel MedFlight overturned the denial after performing the air medical transportation mission and fighting for the patient’s rights.

So that's what it is: Angel MedFlight is for real.

And I guess that's what makes you different.

Real is good.

I think I answered question two as well. Let me also add: The night you flew Ariel to Boston, Jeremy kept me informed of the itinerary the entire time. His thoroughness, care and commitment were incredible.

And as far as question three: I must admit, I had so much trouble believing the first two messages I got, one from Jeremy, because it just sounded 'too good to be true'.

And it kept feeling that way until I was told that Angel Medflight had just wheeled Ariel out of her room at Beaujon Hospital. (I heard that, upon meeting your medics, Ariel said "Oh, you speak English. I'm so relieved.")

Sometimes too good to be true just turns out to be good, really good.

It has been a pleasure working with you, and I will be happy to tell one and all of my experience (as I constantly do).


Diane M. Greene, Ph.D.


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