Why Air Ambulance Bills Are Still Sky-High
In April 2018, 9-year-old Christian Bolling was hiking with his parents and sister in Virginia’s Blue Ridge Mountains, near their home in Roanoke. While climbing some boulders, he lost his footing and fell down a rocky 20-foot drop, fracturing both bones in his lower left leg, his wrist, both sides of his nose and his skull.
A rescue squad carried him out of the woods, and a helicopter flew him to a pediatric hospital trauma unit in Roanoke.
Most of Christian’s care was covered by his parents’ insurance. But one bill stood out. Med-Trans, the air ambulance company, was not part of the family’s health plan network and billed $36,000 for the 34-mile trip from the mountain to the hospital. It was greater than the cost of his two-day hospitalization, scans and cast combined.
“When you’re in that moment, you’re only thinking about the life of your child,” says Christian’s mother, Cynthia Bolling, an occupational therapist. “I know I’m being taken advantage of. It’s just wrong.”
The rising number of complaints about surprise medical bills is spurring efforts on Capitol Hill and at the White House to help consumers. Over and over again, the high cost associated with air ambulance service gives patients the biggest sticker shock — the subject has come up at nearly every Capitol Hill hearing and news conference on surprise medical bills.
Yet air ambulance costs are not addressed in any of the proposals introduced or circulating in Congress. Even a congressional decision last year to set up a panel that would study air ambulance billing hasn’t gone anywhere.