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By Jesse Laslovich
Chief Legal Counsel to Montana State Auditor Monica J. Lindeen 

Air Ambulance Flights Add Insult to Injury

 


 

Last September, John Andrews suffered a brain aneurysm and was airlifted via helicopter by Life Flight Network from Anaconda, Mont. to Missoula, Mont. He was charged $34,200, his health insurer paid almost half, and Life Flight Network billed him the balance - $18,678.

Upon arrival in Missoula, St. Patrick Hospital decided John needed to be airlifted via airplane to Seattle, this time by its own affiliate, NW MedStar. He was charged $57,867, his health insurer paid about one-third, and NW MedStar billed him the balance - $37,931.

 

Two flights. Two companies. Two large bills. And one call to action. 

 

John and families like his across Montana are why I am chairing an Air Ambulance Working Group to come up with solutions to protect Montanans from exorbitant air ambulance bills. Far too many Montana families are enduring what John’s family is enduring and State Auditor Monica Lindeen’s office is working with our hospitals, health insurers, air ambulance companies and others to stand up for families like John’s. 

 

Many hospitals don’t have their own air transportation. If they call Reach Air or Life Flight Network (which recently acquired NW MedStar) patients will receive a balance bill for their flight, sometimes more than $90,000.

Reach Air will work with us in helping you. They recognize that even though it’s not their legal obligation, it is their moral obligation. Life Flight Network does not.

 

John’s story is like every other story we encounter in our office, whether it’s the air transport of a child or adult. They had medical emergencies, they have health insurance, none of them chose who provided their air transport and yet they are being pushed to financial ruin. Their medical emergencies have become financial emergencies. It’s wrong. It’s unacceptable. And it must be fixed. 

 

Without question, in a rural state like Montana where distances separate us from our doctors, we need air ambulance companies because they save lives. But we don’t need some of their billing practices.

 

The problem lies in the hands of Congress and nothing is easy in Washington, D.C., even if the solution is obvious and has bipartisan support.

That’s what we have, though, with a common-sense amendment sponsored by our own Senator Tester and his Republican colleague, Senator Hoeven from North Dakota. 

 

Their amendment empowers states to rein in these out of control air ambulance bills.

Many Montanans are strong advocates of state’s rights, for good reason, but companies like Life Flight Network resist these efforts, putting Montanans at their financial mercy. 

 

Whether Congress acts or not, our Air Ambulance Working Group is working on solutions with the Legislature, which will end the ridiculous notion that whomever gets called dictates whether your family will be financially stable after an air transport.

We need the help from our hospitals, health insurers, air ambulance companies and you.

 

Call Congressman Zinke and Senator Daines and urge them to support Senator Tester’s bipartisan amendment to give Montana the ability to help ourselves when it comes to air ambulance transports. 

 

Many of us are determined to get something done. The financial futures of families like John’s depend on it. 

 

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