By Margaret Friedenauer, KHNS News

A piece of state legislation passed this spring opened the door for more competition among medevac providers in the state, and one company has taken advantage of that opportunity.
Medevac provider Guardian Flight bought medevac insurance provider Apollo MediTrans on June 17th. Combining the two names, the company now goes by Apollo MT by Guardian Flight. The move means customers will now buy their coverage plans with the same company that provides the actual service and the company can combine resources, according to Guardian Flight vice president Shanon Pollock.

“The reason we were so interested in pursuing a relationship with Apollo is because they have the largest membership base of anyone in Alaska and we have the largest footprint from an air medical perspective of anyone in Alaska with 11 bases and few coming up soon in the future. So together, Apollo MT and Guardian can provide the most comprehensive coverage to anyone in Alaska including Southeast.”

Pollack said coverage for current Apollo policy holders will not be affected, even if a different carrier than Guardian is used. However, new and renewed policies will cover Guardian medevac services only.

Apollo and Guardian used to be under the same ownership. About five years ago they split, with Apollo focusing on providing membership plans to cover medevac costs with various providers and Guardian being one of those emergency medevac services. The companies had disagreements throughout that time about costs and coverage, including a string of legal disputes. Now, with Guardian’s purchase of Apollo, Pollack says the companies are working together to merge employees and services.

“If I lived in Southeast Alaska I would want to know the membership I am purchasing, I will be tied directly to a flight company that can transport me during a time of need and that is what we are back at.”

Legislation passed this spring making it easier for companies to operate medevac membership plans without them being classified as insurance plans and requiring stricter regulation. That opens the door to more competition, Pollack said. Because of that, Apollo MT by Guardian wants to keep its membership numbers confidential.

“Because of the changes and now essentially our program will be competing with other air medical programs I think that’s confidential, but we’ll say it’s substantial.”

Airlift Northwest and Guardian are the major medevac providers in Southeast, with Guardian and LifeMedAlaska also providing services statewide. Airlift Northwest operates its own membership program and emergency air services through a partnership with the University of Washington.
Guardian has expanded the number of bases it has across the state in recent years to eleven. Pollack says more bases are planned to be announced soon. Airlift Northwest has a plane and crew based in Juneau.

Timothy Baker of the former Apollo MediTrans said Apollo employees are staying on the job to help with the transition of the sale to Guardian.
“We’re not abandoning anything; it was by no means anything that was negative. We’re going to be there for our members the entire time and so is Guardian Flight. They’re going to continue to offer any support in anyway necessary.”

Medevac insurance is important for many rural Alaska residents since insurance doesn’t always fully cover medevacs which can run in the tens of thousands of dollars. Plans from Apollo by Guardian and Airlift Northwest run between $99 to $125 year for a household. Pollack said Apollo MT by Guardian has no plans to changes membership costs at this time.

Photo: Creative Commons License, Alex Hung