High cost of air ambulance trips

Every year during a desperate time of need, 5,000 or more Georgians are picked up by an air ambulance and flown to a hospital.

In emergency medicine, they call it the golden hour. Survival rates rise dramatically with early care. These flying emergency rooms, with state of the art equipment, highly trained nurses and paramedics can save lives.

But it also comes at a cost. Quite a big cost, the FOX 5 I-Team found.

DeeDee Moseley told us she was scared half to death when she saw the bill for her 47 mile trip from Clayton, Georgia to Gainesville.

 “I asked my son what was I going to do, and he said, that can’t be right. The bill can’t be that high,” Ms. Moseley told us.

But, it was. The Air Methods company bill was for $33,983.

When she told them she couldn’t pay it, Air Methods filed a lien against her and negotiated a settlement for $15,000.

The now unemployed mother, who lives on her husband’s social security, pays $100 a month.

Over the years, Air Methods has been pretty aggressive about trying to get the money. A search of court records, from 2007 to 2015, found the company has filed liens in 56 counties all over the state totaling more than $2.2 million.

Air Methods wrote us to say they have changed its policy and no longer file liens when patients can't pay.

Air Methods, the largest provider in the state, says the care they offer comes at a price. A 24/7 helicopter and trained medical crew are very expensive they told us.  And, they said they sometimes "do not receive payment" for life saving trips and insurance companies are "doing the bare minimum" and "expecting the rest of us" to pay.

But State Representative Rusty Kidd sees it differently. “The bad guy is the insurance companies,” says Kidd.

Rep. Kidd found himself needing an air ambulance. He was being carried down stairs in his wheelchair. There was an accident and he broke his neck. He was airlifted to Piedmont. He was stunned when he saw his $18,000 bill.

“I almost passed out,” said Kidd. “What does it cost them per hour? What does it cost for personnel? That’s what they should charge.”

He says insurance companies have not negotiated a fair payment with air ambulance companies, so patients end up with astronomical bills and little or no insurance coverage.

“The worst part,” says Kidd, “is what it does to the person who can't pay. A hard working person doesn't have resources to pay or doesn't have contacts to help them out.

Kidd wants the state legislator to impanel a study commission to convince the air ambulance industry and the insurance industry to come up with an answer.