Pandemic makes medical flights more difficult
Emergency medical flights are more of a problem than ever because of the Covid-19 crisis, one of the island's top health insurance professionals said yesterday.
BF&M's Michelle Jackson said the impact of the airport closure, the scarcity of beds at overseas hospitals and difficulty in returning patients home had all affected medevac operations.
She highlighted an emergency that happened just after the airport's March 20 shutdown.
Ms Jackson, the firm's senior vice-president, group lines, health and life, said: “The doctor said ‘we really need to get this patient off island ASAP'.
“We were on the phone with the airport folks throughout the night and they opened the airport at 3am so we could get the air ambulance in to get the patient out.”
She added that the response from airport operators Skyport and the Bermuda Airport Authority was “extraordinarily fantastic”.
Ms Jackson said: “Covid-19 tests are required before patients can get on an air ambulance. That was even more challenging earlier when we did not have the testing capacity that we have now.”
She added that some BF&M-insured patients were in overseas care when North American hospitals were inundated with Covid-19 cases.
She said patient safety was paramount, but that had to be balanced with their need for the best medical care.
Ms Jackson added: “Sometimes that meant having to try to bring them home, other times it meant ensuring they were covered for a longer stay than normal overseas.
“And if they couldn't fly home normally, because of quarantine and other things, then we've had quite a few come back by air ambulance.
“These are the kind of challenges you don't have in a non-pandemic world.”
The insurer has also been speaking to hospitals overseas to ensure beds were available and to identify those that would admit emergency evacuees who tested positive for Covid-19.
Ms Jackson said: “We have been working for several months to make sure that those who need medical care have access to it, especially as this may be our new normal for many months.”
A trend seen elsewhere in the world is that patients with health problems or injuries unrelated to the coronavirus pandemic were avoiding hospitals due to fear of catching the disease.
Ms Jackson said BF&M's information suggested that “when people can delay their care, it is being delayed”.
But she added: “We want to get the message out that if the care is time sensitive, see your health professional.”
Ms Jackson said patients in doubt should call their doctor and that over-the-phone “telehealth” advice was covered by the firm's insurance plans.
Ms Jackson added that BF&M had also tried to ease the Covid-19 lockdown financial pain caused to many clients.
She highlighted that the company had deferred its annual health insurance renewal process.
Ms Jackson said: “The last thing companies need in this environment is the pressure and deadlines associated with their 2021 health insurance rates at this moment in time.”
She added that many revenue-starved business clients who had laid off staff had continued to pay employees' health insurance and BF&M had pitched in to help.
People who have full comprehensive health insurance can defer payment of 50 per cent of the health insurance premium, effectively the employer's share, to a later date.
Businesses can reduce their health insurance premium over the crisis with the understanding that they can return to their normal levels of coverage after the crisis has passed.
BF&M has also allowed an increase in the age of children on parents' health insurance if the child is of working age but has been laid off.
Ms Jackson said: “This has provided comfort to many parents who have children who are young adults but unable to work and are in need of health insurance.”
She added that BF&M was “striving to go above and beyond our promise on paper” to help its clients and the country through the crisis.