Air Ambulance For Workers Abroad

May 16, 2003
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GRAND RAPIDS — One upcoming focus of World Trade Week here is the notion of doing business in Russia.

Among other things, this implies sending representatives to a country that spans six time zones and has a health care system ranging from ultramodern in Leningrad to, shall we say, adventurous, in remote places such as Yazhno-Sakhalinsk.

But as long as an airport is available, there’s a fairly cheap way to get an injured or ailing employee back home about as fast as you can learn to pronounce Petropavlovsk.

It’s via a 12-year-old Birmingham, Ala., firm called MEDJET Assistance, that guarantees it can airlift someone from any airport in any country with which the United States maintains diplomatic relations. And it says the aircraft it leases are equipped with intensive care equipment and personnel if the patient requires that level of attention … at no extra charge beyond the membership fee.

The program provides that MEDJET will take the injured or ailing member to the hospital of his or her choice, regardless of whether the member is overseas or in the United States.

And, as a matter of fact, MEDJET says that a Russian city above the Arctic Circle was one of the sites to which it was called recently where a member from Oklahoma sustained a serious leg fracture when struck by a car.

The member, a clergyman, decided he would rather be treated and recuperate at the Muskogee Regional Medical Center in Oklahoma than stay on at Murmansk General. MEDJET says his membership got him home at no charge.

The program is available to individuals, families, corporations and one very special category — motorcycle aficionados.

“If you’re a biker from Michigan at a rally in Daytona and you are hospitalized by injury or illness,” says Sue Rodman, MEDJET spokeswoman, “we’ll get you to your home hospital.

“And we’ll get your Harley back to its home shop, too, though it won’t be on the same plane.”

She stressed that MEDJET is not insurance. And that’s important, she said, because there’s no fine print about medical necessity or approved hospitals or physicians. The chief requirement is that the member be hospitalized by illness or injury at least 150 miles away from his or her home hospital.

Most overseas travel insurance, she noted, entails sending an injured person merely to the nearest hospital.

And if the injury occurs in the United States, she said, travel insurance often has no provision at all for transportation to a hospital.

“With MEDJET,” she said, “It’s just a case of getting you to the hospital of your choice as long as you are hospitalized more than 150 miles away from it.”

Rodman explained that the annual membership rates range from $175 for a person to $275 for a family. The company also offers corporate rates and special rates for students who are studying overseas under an exchange program.

“What’s so helpful about this program is that if, say, you have a son or daughter in college halfway across the country and she’s hurt or becomes ill, it’s going to get very expensive.

“You’ve not only got the expense of getting there, but if she’s going to be in the hospital for a while, you’ve got to have a place to stay, meals and so forth. And if you need to charter a medically equipped plane to fly your child home, depending on her medical condition, it could be very costly, too.

“But if you’re members of MEDJET, it brings her to her home hospital — it’s bed-to-bed service — at no charge. And she feels more secure with her family and family doctor and it’s going to be a lot less costly for you.”

She stressed that the membership fee also covers care provided en route, no matter how sophisticated it needs to be.

MEDJET’s Web site explains that a family membership covers the named primary member, spouse, and up to five of their unmarried dependent children under the age of 19, or up to age 23 if they are full-time dependent students.

Membership automatically covers a newborn or a child adopted during a membership year.

Likewise, Rodman said that if a corporate employee is hospitalized while overseas, it’s in the interest of the employee and the corporation to get that employee back home, reunited with family members, friends and in the care of physicians who know his or her health history.

Rodman told the Business Journal that MEDJET doesn’t operate a fleet of aircraft, but charters planes with whatever health care equipment is required according to conversations between the family physician and the attending physician.

She said the aircraft MEDJET leases are jets that can be configured either for one or two patients plus relatives.

The firm’s principals are familiar names: Halley Barbour, Lanny Griffrith and Ed Rogers — partners in Barbour, Griffith & Rogers, a Washington, D.C. lobbying firm, all of whom were members of the Reagan and previous Bush administrations. Barbour also is a former chairman of the Republican National Committee.

The other investors are Wally Nall, Jr. and Harold Ripps, real estate developers.

MEDJET Assistance has a competitor in the same community named MEDjet International that, according to its Web site, is about the same age and provides similar services.           

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