Air ambulance bills are sky high
When 17-year Colton Lightfoot crashed his motorcycle, his parents didn’t hesitate when doctors suggested that he rushed to the emergency room by air ambulance. At that alarming moment, they didn’t think to ask questions like how much that would cost or whether their insurance covered it in full or at all. Naturally all they cared about was their son’s recovery.
But nothing could prepare the East Texas family for the enormity of the bill for that flight — $58,000. After their health insurance carrier only paid $15,000, they were stuck with a whopping $43,000 bill. And many of these carriers refuse to pay all medical bills when they find out that they were the result of a car wreck.
Their story is typical and I’ve seen the victims of car accidents grapple with this serious problem.
Why are air ambulances so expensive?
It used to be that only hospitals operated air ambulances and reserved them for life-threatening crashes and situations and transport from hard to reach rural areas. But today, for-profit corporations conduct half of all air medical transport.
Surprisingly the DOT lumps air ambulances in the same category as commercial airlines and charters and subjects this form of medical transport to the same corporate-oriented rules that would apply to United Airline or an executive jet service. And where a nonprofit hospital answers to its patients, a commercial air service must show profits to its investors.
A good example of this phenomenon is the skyrocketing bills of Air Methods, a widely used air ambulatory service in the Dallas-Fort Worth. In 2009, Air Method’s average bill was $17,262, which although extremely high, pales compared to the average bill of $50,199 the company charged six years later in 2015.
Why doesn’t the Texas legislature take action? Their hands are tied. Texas tried to regulate the air ambulance industry a decade ago. But the federal laws that govern commercial airlines preempted the state’s rights to prevent air transport companies from price gouging Texas patients during a medical emergency.
The nonprofit Consumers Union urges the U.S. legislature to amend the Airline Deregulation Act to allow states to regulate the air ambulatory industry. I think this is a good idea. But what can you do right now to protect yourself?
What should you do if you receive an unfair medical bill?
The jaw-dropping life flight bills reflect a bigger problem with emergency medical costs in general. No one plant on being in a car crash and can’t negotiate a fair price for his or her medical care. However you have some options that can help save you a lot of money.
- Sign up for an air ambulance insurance plan. That is available online or through utility companies or cable television providers. Make sure the helicopter that arrives is with your plan. I recently had a client transported by a different company than the one she had signed up with and having lost consciousness and being severely injured, she didn’t notice the different name.
- Ask about your health insurance coverage. Since you can’t usually choose which company will show up at the scene, specifically ask about out of network plans.
- When you receive a bill, take action immediately. Call the company to make it file on your health insurance company. Negotiate the bill way down if you can.
- Hire a good personal injury lawyer. We here at Berenson Injury Law regularly negotiate with companies to cut medical bills while negotiating with liability insurance companies for the maximum possible compensation. The more money we can cut your medical bills, the more money we can put in your bank account. We can sue the at-fault driver(s) and collect damages that you need to pay back these bills, your lost wages, and other expenses you have sustained.