Air ambulances play an important role in helping injured people get the care they need. When a regular ambulance can’t reach an area because of the rugged terrain, or because it would take too long to get to the injured person, an air ambulance can be the difference between life and death. Air ambulances are also used to transport patients to facilities with specialized services. Recently, however, surprise bills and what some deem unnecessary trips are calling into question when air ambulance use is actually necessary and beneficial.
CNN dug into the world of air ambulances and found questionable uses of, and billing for, the lifesaving transportation. After a study, which included speaking to each state’s insurance regulatory office, they found air ambulance bills for patients ranging from $34,000 to $533,000. Results of a 2017 federal investigation found that the average cost increase for an air ambulance flight doubled between 2010 and 2014. And – in New Mexico alone – the cost of an air ambulance went up 229% between the years of 2006 and 2015.
Real consequences for real people
One family faced a $63,000 bill to fly their child suffering from a brain tumor from Wisconsin to Texas to see a specialist. Another family flew a dying relative home from Arizona to Michigan, resulting in a $550,000 charge.
Not all of these outrageous bills come from cross-country flights, either. Sonna Anderson of North Dakota was thrown from her horse and needed medical transport. She was secured on a backboard and ready to be taken away by regular ambulance to a hospital less than an hour away when an air ambulance landed on the scene.
Although her husband questioned the need, Anderson was taken by air ambulance to a hospital further away. Her insurance was billed nearly $55,000, leaving her with $41,000 to pay out of pocket.
Often, consumers end up with these giant charges due to out-of-network air ambulances. If the air ambulance doesn’t have a contract with the patient’s insurance plan, insurance won’t cover the full cost. And, in emergency situations, you don’t have the luxury to choose an air ambulance company.
North Dakota fights back
In 2017, North Dakota enacted legislation designed to protect consumers from unexpected, potentially bankrupting air ambulance bills. Senate Bill 2231 regulated how insurance companies pay for air ambulances in Minot and throughout the state.
The bill’s primary sponsor, Senator Judy Lee said, “It is important to protect citizens in critical medical situations from unexpected high costs beyond what insurance covers. It also is important to keep this issue visible to the federal government.” This was the second time that North Dakota attempted to protect consumers from out-of-control air ambulance fees. (The first law was passed in 2015, and did not survive a court challenge.)
However, on January 14, 2019, the U.S. District Court for the District of North Dakota struck down part of the law, claiming “The federal Airline Deregulation Act bars a state law that required air ambulance services to treat any payment made by an insurer as a full and final payment.” This means that air ambulance companies can continue to “balance bill” for anything not covered by insurance. North Dakota has already filed an appeal to overturn the Court’s decision regarding balance billing. (The rest of the law was allowed to remain in place.)
You deserve to get the medical treatment you need, when you need it – without financially losing everything. The North Dakota personal injury attorneys at Larson Law Firm, P.C. will work to ensure you’re compensated for all of the losses associated with your accident. To schedule your free initial consultation with an attorney, call our Minot office at 701-484-4878, or fill out our contact form.