Lynchburg, Va. – On Capitol Hill on Tuesday, lawmakers are planning a crack down on surprise medical bills for hospital services and treatments outside of the patient insurance network. It includes air ambulance costs, which can cost more than $ 36,000.
When Joseph Penrod's son accidentally hit a bunch of prescription pills, his wife panicked.
"The first thing she did was call poison control. And they talked to her about getting him an ER as soon as possible," Penrod said.
They did not think twice when he was flown to a better hospital.
"They suggested that they were not appropriately equipped to handle the particular age of the patient in the particular condition," Penrod said.
His son was stable at that time, and Penrod's insurance paid to the nursing care. But he got a $ 40,000 ticket for the air ambulance.
"I didn't have $ 40,000 in place. It would have ruined us financially," Penrod said.
Air ambulances are often out of the insurance coverage because they are independent contractors and negotiate the costs separately. They have become a growing lucrative business that makes the bulk of their money in rural areas.
"The aviation sector, the predominantly players are driven by private equity. The model is very simple. There are people out there in an emergency, they have resources and we can take them," said Doug Gray, executive director of the Virginia Association of Health Plans.
Gray said a new Virginia law came into force on March 1
"An accident can happen anytime, anywhere, and you can be the one who has the decision made for you. And your livelihood and savings can be on the line," Gray said.
Penrod spent nearly a year fighting for this bill, and finally offered to pay $ 1000, and they took it.
"If you're rich, you can get a lawyer and that's good. If you are in the lower end of the spectrum then you need to be able to fight too long enough to find out how to escape, "Penrod said.
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