Air Ambulance Company’s $47,182 Bill Sparks Debate Over Sky-High Health Care Costs

An air ambulance saved Clarence Kendall’s life, then stuck him with a $47,182 bill that has led to a long lawsuit and a big controversy over the sky-high costs of some aspects of health care.

Kendall is a rancher from a rural part of Arizona, and was badly injured when he fell from a haystack. He was airlifted to a hospital, and while insurance covered much of his care, it didn’t touch the $47,182 ride he took in the air ambulance.

Kendall’s story was featured this week in the New York Times, leading to a discussion about the nearly impossible costs of health care being unloaded on patients.

“That initial bill nearly gave me a heart attack,” Kendall told the newspaper. “I thought they’d have to come and get me again.”

When he couldn’t pay the bill, the company, Air Methods, took Kendall to court.

As the New York Times went on to explain, air ambulances are becoming vulnerable to changes in health care that have stripped away funding.

“The model has worked because health insurance has covered a large share of the bills.

“Now changes in the air ambulance industry may leave patients even more financially vulnerable. Private insurance companies that offer ambulance coverage may not cover the full cost of air ambulances, leaving more patients to pay the difference. And in recent months, those insurers, under pressure to cut health care costs, have been reducing reimbursements for air ambulances. Medicare has typically covered a smaller portion of the bills than private insurance, and Medicaid even less.”

Air ambulance companies have taken action to stem the loss of revenue. One of the largest companies, Air Medical Group Holdings, just announced that it was moving into India, a country of more than 1 billion people, many of whom live in areas with ill-equipped roads and scarce medical services.

“Simply put, we are the best possible option for a person in the worst possible situation. It is critical for India to take this step in emergency medical services,” said Phillip Devasia, director, financial planning and analysis, Med-Trans Corporation, a unit of AMGH. “This is a country of 1.2 billion people, and even if 1%, or 12 million, use our services, it will be a step in the right direction,” he added.

The industry is booming in the United States as well, and Air Methods has become one of the biggest, growing by more than 700 percent in the last 10 years.

But the air ambulance company may never get the $47,182 it billed Clarence Kendall. The rancher said he refuses to pay what he believes is an “exorbitant amount of money.”

[Image via Air Methods]