Clinical UM Guideline

Subject:  Ambulance Services: Air and Water
Guideline #:  CG-ANC-04Current Effective Date:  02/09/2015
Status:RevisedLast Review Date:  02/05/2015


This document addresses the use of air or water ambulance services. An ambulance is a specially equipped vehicle designed and supplied with materials and devices to provide life-saving and supportive treatments or interventions. Wheel-chair vans or other such vehicles are not so equipped and are not addressed in this document.

Note: Please see the following related documents for additional information:

Clinical Indications

Medically Necessary: 

The use of air and water ambulance services is considered medically necessary when all the following criteria are met:

  1. The ambulance must have the necessary equipment and supplies to address the needs of the individual; and
  2. The individual's condition must be such that any form of transportation other than by ambulance would be medically contraindicated; and
  3. The individual's condition is such that the time needed to transport by land poses a threat to the individual's survival or seriously endangers the individual's health; or the individual's location is such that accessibility is only feasible by air or water transportation; and
  4. The individual is transported to the nearest hospital with appropriate facilities for treatment; and
  5. There is a medical condition that is life threatening or first responders deem to be life threatening, including, but not limited to, the following:
    • Intracranial bleeding; or
    • Cardiogenic shock; or
    • Major burns requiring immediate treatment in a Burn Center; or
    • Conditions requiring immediate treatment in a Hyperbaric Oxygen Unit; or
    • Multiple severe injuries; or
    • Transplants; or
    • Limb-threatening trauma; or
    • High risk pregnancy; or
    • Acute myocardial infarction; if this would enable the individual to receive a more timely medically necessary intervention (such as percutaneous transluminal coronary angioplasty [PTCA] or fibrinolytic therapy).

The use of air and water ambulance services to transport an individual from one hospital to another requires that:

The use of air and water ambulance services for deceased individuals is considered medically necessary when the above criteria are met and when either of the following is present:

  1. The individual was pronounced dead while in route or upon arrival at the hospital or final destination; or
  2. The individual was pronounced dead by a legally authorized individual (physician or medical examiner) after the ambulance call was made, but prior to pick-up. In these circumstances the response to call is considered medically necessary.

Not Medically Necessary: 

All other uses of air and water ambulance services are considered not medically necessary, including, but not limited to, the following:

  1. Transfers from one hospital to another if above criteria not met; or
  2. Transfers from a hospital capable of treating an individual to another hospital primarily for the convenience of the individual or the individual's family or physician; or
  3. Transportation to a hospital other than the nearest one with appropriate facilities; or
  4. When land transportation is available and the time required to transport the individual by land does not endanger the individual's life or health; or
  5. Transportation to a facility that is not an acute care hospital, such as a nursing facility, physician's office or the individual's home; or
  6. The services are for a transfer of a deceased individual to a funeral home, morgue, or hospital, when the individual was pronounced dead at the scene.

The following codes for treatments and procedures applicable to this document are included below for informational purposes. Inclusion or exclusion of a procedure, diagnosis or device code(s) does not constitute or imply member coverage or provider reimbursement policy. Please refer to the member's contract benefits in effect at the time of service to determine coverage or non-coverage of these services as it applies to an individual member. 

A0430Ambulance service, conventional air services, transport, one way (fixed wing)
A0431Ambulance service, conventional air services, transport, one way (rotary wing)
A0435Fixed wing air mileage, per statute mile
A0436Rotary wing air mileage, per statute mile
A0999Unlisted ambulance service [when specified as ambulance service, water transport]
S9960Ambulance service, conventional air services, nonemergency transport, one way (fixed wing)
S9961Ambulance service, conventional air service, nonemergency transport, one way (rotary wing)
ICD-9 Diagnosis[For dates of service prior to 10/01/2015]
 All diagnoses
ICD-10 Diagnosis[For dates of service on or after 10/01/2015]
 All diagnoses
Discussion/General Information

Ambulance transport services involve the use of specially designed and equipped vehicles to transport ill or injured individuals. Ambulance transport may involve the movement of an individual to the nearest hospital for treatment of a individual's illness or injury, non-emergency medical transport of an individual to another location to obtain medically necessary specialized diagnostic or treatment services, or non-emergency medical transport to a hospital or to an individual's home. An air ambulance may be a specially equipped aircraft such as a helicopter of airplane or boats. Water ambulances are specially equipped boats. Proper equipment may include ventilation and airway equipment, cardiac equipment (monitoring and defibrillation), immobilization devices, bandages, communication equipment, obstetrical kits, infection control, injury prevention equipment, vascular access equipment, and medications.

In general, an emergency medical condition is defined as a medical condition  manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) so that a prudent layperson who possesses an average knowledge of health and medicine, could reasonably expect the absence of immediate medical attention to result in:

Examples of medical emergencies may include illness or injury such as severe chest pains that might indicate a heart attack, slurred speech or weakness that might indicate a stroke, fracture, hemorrhaging, poisoning, major burns, loss of consciousness or respiratory accidents, convulsions, shock and other acute conditions.


Peer Reviewed Publications:

  1. Galvagno SM Jr, Haut ER, Zafar SN, et al. Association between helicopter vs ground emergency medical services and survival for adults with major trauma. JAMA. 2012; 307(15):1602-1610.

Government Agency, Medical Society, and Other Authoritative Publications:

  1. American College of Emergency Physicians. Appropriate utilization of air medical transport in the out-of-hospital setting. 2008. Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2015.
  2. American College of Emergency Physicians. Guidelines for Ambulance Diversion (1999, reaffirmed 2012). Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2015.
  3. American College of Emergency Physicians/ National Association of EMS Physicians. Alternate Ambulance Transportation and Destination (2001, reaffirmed June, 2008). Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2015.
  4. American College of Surgeons/ American College of Emergency Physicians/ American College of Physicians Academy of Pediatrics/ National Association of EMS physicians. Equipment for Ambulances/American College of Physicians. Equipment for Ambulances (2009). Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2015.
  5. Cahaba Government Benefit Administrators®. Local Coverage Determination for Transportation Services: Ambulance (L30022). Revised 08/01/2012. Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2014.
  6. Doucet J, Bulger E, Sanddal N, et al. Appropriate use of helicopter emergency medical services for transport of trauma patients: guidelines from the Emergency Medical System Subcommittee, Committee on Trauma, American College of Surgeons. J Trauma Acute Care Surg. 2013; 75(4):734-741.
  7. Palmetto GBA. Local Coverage Determination for Ambulance Services (L31604). Revised 06/12/2014. Available at: Accessed on January 9, 2014.
  8. Thomson DP, Thomas SH; 2002-2003 Air Medical Services Committee of the National Association of EMS Physicians. Guidelines for air medical dispatch. Prehosp Emerg Care. 2007 (2):265-271.

Emergency Transport

Revised02/05/2015Medical Policy & Technology Assessment Committee (MPTAC) review. Addition of "first responders deem to be life threatening" to Medically Necessary Statement. Updated Discussion/General Information and References.
Reviewed02/13/2014MPTAC review. Updated References.
 01/01/2014Updated Coding section with 01/01/2014 HCPCS changes.
Reviewed02/14/2013MPTAC review. Updated References.
Reviewed02/16/2012MPTAC review. No changes to Clinical Indications.
Reviewed02/17/2011MPTAC review. Updated Rationale and Reference sections.
New02/25/2010MPTAC initial document development. Moved position statement regarding air and water ambulance from CG-ANC-01 to CG-ANC-04.
Pre-Merger Organizations

Last Review Date

Document Number


Anthem Midwest



Air Ambulance Services
Anthem Virginia


 Ambulance and Medical Transport
Anthem Maine


 Ambulance Benefit Detail