COMMENTARY: The high cost of emergency transport

“Warning! Fasten your seat belt! You are about to experience a bumpy ride and potential financial turbulence as a result of heroic efforts to save your life.” This is a call to action alert that Delawareans should be made aware of.

Delaware has an excellent 9-1-1 and Emergency Medical System that we rely on 24 hours a day, 365 days a year. If you are injured in an accident and the Delaware State Police helicopter is dispatched for your transport, you can breathe a sigh of relief that your air transport is covered through Delaware’s budget.

On the other hand, imagine you are hospitalized and you require advanced or specialty care, not located in your rural hospital. Time is of the essence so an emergency air transport is arranged for your life threatening event. You will soon learn that this flight is, by no means, free, and you will be faced with also “recovering” from the shock of a huge bill. Ouch, that certainly hurts!

Ruth Briggs King

In this scenario, you have survived a life-threatening event and are recovering from the emotional, physical, and, now, financial ramifications of your emergency. You gasp when you discover the $57,000 bill for your air transport that you must pay. Most insurance providers may a small portion of the fee, possibly up to $8,000.

In Delaware, Air Methods is the major provider of facility-to-facility air transport and they are reimbursed by Medicare, Medicaid and some private insurers for some of the costs. So, the question is: Who pays the $57K bill, ultimately?

In addition, who pays the remaining portion of the bill not covered by insurance? The answer to that question is: You. The costs not covered by insurance will likely become your out-of-pocket expenses. For those uninsured, it is reported that the entire amount is billed to the individual and the collection becomes aggressive.

Upon investigating this concern, I learned that Delaware is not flying solo on this issue. I reached out to the major provider in South Carolina (also Air Methods) about the costs and billing practices. They provided information on the cost of 24/7 readiness for the equipment and professional staff.

They also admit that private insurance payers must close the gap, as well as recognize that there have been financial losses through Medicaid and Medicare, which have not received increases to their reimbursement rates in 20 years.

Even still, is a $57,000 air transport bill — regardless of who is responsible for paying — simply too much? Would this be considered good, old- fashioned price gouging? More importantly, who or what is protecting Delawareans during this vulnerable time as they face the potential of financial ruin?

Some states are taking action. I hope Delaware joins the effort. I have written to Delaware’s Attorney General Matt Denn, as well as Insurance Commissioner Trinidad Navarro, to investigate this practice and to find a remedy sooner rather than later.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Ruth Briggs King is a Republican state representative representing Georgetown and Long Neck in the 37th District

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