A ‘no-brainer’: CALSTAR offers life flight insurance | TheUnion.com

A ‘no-brainer’: CALSTAR offers life flight insurance

Cal Fire prevention coordinator Lynne Tolmachoff explains the details of the air ambulance service during an aviation operational briefing at Nevada County Airpark in this 2013 archive photo.

If you get in a car wreck in Nevada County, the likelihood is that you will be flown by helicopter to a regional trauma center. That helicopter ride could very well save your life — but decimate your bank account.

California Shock Trauma Air Rescue (CALSTAR) is a non-profit air ambulance that provides rapid transport for victims who need a quicker alternative to reach a hospital.

The flights aren’t cheap, however — the bill can run in excess of $25,000 for a single trip. CALSTAR offers memberships that waive the costs, but it’s not a widely known service. Thom Staser, CEO of the Nevada County Food and Toy Run, hopes to change that by teaming up with CALSTAR to raise awareness of the benefits a membership provides.

“One of my friends who rode in the Toy Run got jumped by a deer and was life-flighted out. Then I started looking into it, and from what I found out, I thought (a membership) was just one of the best things to have,” Staser said. “You don’t know when you’re going to get hit and need to be life-flighted out. I invited (CALSTAR) to put up a booth at one of the Toy Runs so that they could sell memberships, and it just took off from there.”

A membership costs $50 for an entire family, or $45 for an individual, said Sonja Vargas-Conklin, a market development coordinator at CALSTAR. “Air ambulance services are expensive. We transport anyone that requires medical attention, and the flight is determined by a doctor or first responder on the scene,” said Vargas-Conklin. “The bills go out, but the way it works is you just call our accounts receivable department, let them know you are a CALSTAR member and the air transportation part of the bill is waived.”

They also offer a group membership that the Toy Run qualifies for, she said, meaning anyone who signs up through Staser’s group qualifies for a yearly fee of only $35.

You can sign up for the group membership by going to http://www.toyrun.org/2013/09/calstar-life-flight-program/.

Staser says that if 120 members sign up, then the cost will drop to $30 the year after. He’s also quick to point out that the Toy Run receives no financial benefits from advertising CALSTAR’s membership. It’s simply a matter of educating the community on a service that can literally save your life, he says.

“It’s not just for car accidents. If you are out hiking and you fall off a trail and break a leg, you have to be life-flighted out. If you’re diving and you crack your head, you have to be life-flighted out. If you’re at home and you have a heart attack in your backyard, the only way to get you to the hospital fast might be an (air ambulance). And it’s a very expensive thing. When I first heard about it, it was $25,000, and the last thing I heard now is that it’s closer to $27,000,” Staser said. “When you look at the area we live in with the mountains, the rivers and the curvy roads, (CALSTAR) is basically a life saver because you just can’t get in and out of some of these roads in an ambulance.

“It’s a no-brainer,” he added.

“We pay $50 per year for our family of two,” said Margaret Weiss Bloebaum. “When my husband was air-lifted to Roseville after a vehicle crash, we got a bill for $35,000. I called to find out why we had gotten it and was told that we’d been billed in error. We never heard more about it and never got another bill. CALSTAR is worth 10 times what it cost us.”

Many locals who chimed in via Facebook said that even if they never use it, the insurance is invaluable.

“My husband and I have it, and have for many years,” Lynn Isaeff said. “Never needed it, but it’s nice knowing it’s there if there’s ever a problem. The small yearly price and huge coverage area makes it well worth it.”

Spencer Kellar is a freelance writer for The Union; he can be reached at spencerkellar@gmail.com.

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