Lawmakers heard a bill that
Senate Bill 44 would create a hold-harmless clause for patients. That means if they have insurance, patients would be responsible for paying only their deductible and copay. The difference between what their insurance company covers and what the air ambulance company charges would need to be negotiated between the companies themselves.
“So on one side, the insurance industry and folks in the medical profession would come up and say they are charging too much," said bill sponsor Rep. Ryan Lynch. "and then we would have folks from the air transport committee and say, they aren’t paying enough.”
"These patients shouldn’t be stuck in the middle," said Bill Bryant, a representative from the Montana Air Ambulance Coalition. "They have health insurance....most states have some version of this.”
That price difference can amount to tens of thousands of dollars that are billed to patients and their families during the vulnerable time of illness or death.
Elaina Eidum experienced this when her husband Perry was slowly dying of cancer.
“I was dealing with this as Perry’s cancer progressed,” said Eidum. “I don’t even know how we did that. I just don’t even know how we did that.”
Sonia Andrews is also a widow whose husband died shortly after an expensive air ambulance flight.
“No wife, no husband, no son, or daughter, no mother, or father should have to fight this battle,” said Andrews.
"Its about money. Money, money, money. Its not about service,” said Bob Gilbert of the Montana Aviation Trades Association.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Montana and Pacific source are among the insurance companies that opposed the bill arguing that the legislation would allow air ambulance companies to continue to charge the high rates that they please. Therefore, putting insurers in the position of having to pay the rates and then increasing premiums for all customers they cover. Pacific Source's Jennifer Hensley says this isn’t the right solution
“We can't clap with one hand. We can't negotiate with ourselves. We would love to help. They won’t return our calls.”