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Call 6: Air ambulances often overcharge

Posted: 12:16 AM, Mar 17, 2016
Updated: 2016-03-17 04:33:51Z

INDIANAPOLIS -- When something goes wrong and you get hurt, an air ambulance can be the difference between life and death. But what happens after the treatment? Who pays the bill?

An air ambulance bill can range anywhere from $12,000-$60,000 per flight. That bill is huge for most people – and insurance sometimes doesn't cover the whole bill.

Across the country, nearly 400,000 people rely on air ambulances each year for a life or death situation.

In 2013, Michelle Resendez of Rensselaer was one of those people.

After a bad fall, Resendez was taken to a local hospital. But, doctors there said she needed to go to a hospital with an ICU. An air ambulance was called to take her the 45 miles from one hospital to another.

Resendez recovered, and then eventually received a bill from PHI Medical for more than $28,000. Her insurance only picked up $12,600 of it.

"The first letters seemed to come probably about every two-to-three weeks, and then it seemed like they were followed by phone calls a couple of times a week, and then it went from being 'how can we help you, we understand, we'll work with you' to 'we need to determine how much that you can pay us by this date and time or we'll report it to a collection agency,'" Resendez said.

She said the company gave her three options: a one-time lump sum payment; two installment payments; or, she could send them all of her financial information and they could determine her monthly payments.

"I have a kid in college," Resendez said. "I have that financial responsibility as well, so for us it was just like, something needs to happen."

PHI wouldn't talk about Resendez's bill, but said it has one of the most compassionate billing practices in the industry, and that programs often result in a reduce bill, a payment plan or, in some situations, the elimination of all charges.

An investigation by ABC stations across the country found time after time air ambulances were overcharging patients.

According to the vice president of payer services at Air Methods, another for-profit air ambulance company, air ambulance services sometimes raise the price for people who are privately insured because they lose money on patients with Medicaid or Medicare.

"Look, if everybody paid their fair share, you know what the charge for this service would be? $12,000," Air Methods VP of Payer Services Paul Webster said. "That's the reality that we operate at."

In Resendez's case, she says her husband's employer ended up settling and paying a portion of the balance.-----

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