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When one hospital is unable to treat a patient due to a lack of staffing or equipment, the patient may be lifted via air ambulance to be moved quickly to another medical facility.
But what many patients in the state of Maryland didn’t realize about this life-saving option is that it can cost just as much — if not more than — their medical bills.
The Maryland Insurance Administration is now investigating claims from a few former patients who say that they were charged between $20,000 and $40,000 for this service.
The state insurance commissioner Al Redmer Jr. described the charges as exorbitant. Although very few of the total 3,700 air ambulance trips were priced that high, enough complaints were filed with the Maryland Insurance Administration to draw scrutiny from the agency.
As of the end of 2014, the uninsured rate among Americans was 12.9%. That means that patients who get stuck with a $40,000 air ambulance bill would be completely unable to pay it and they probably have actual medical bills to worry about, too.
Because Maryland doesn’t regulate the rates for state aircraft like it does for medical services, those air ambulance companies can charge however much they want. This sticks the patients with the bill if their insurance companies don’t pay the whole thing.
Another compounding issue is that patients are often not informed about how much the service will cost them, and if doctors have to make life-or-death decisions, they likely won’t consider the costs, either. Additionally, patients with medical emergencies won’t be able to consent to the charges in the event that they are conscious and informed.
Redmer has called a Sept. 18 public meeting with the state’s legislators, hospitals, insurers, and stakeholders to find ways to resolve the issue. The meeting will take place at 10 a.m. at the insurance administration’s Baltimore offices, located at 200 Saint Paul Place.
These aren’t the only complaints Redmer has heard from Maryland residents. Redmer and his staff spent the summer traveling throughout the state and holding town hall meetings to find out about any problems Marylanders have had with the insurance industry.
Redmer may have heard more than he bargained for, though. “I’ve been getting an earful,” he told Bizjournals.com reporters on a stop to Baltimore earlier this month.