Arizona woman questioning high costs for medical flights

Amy Maher’s insurance did negotiate down the bill to about $29,000. However, she’s still on the hook to pay $11,000 for a medical flight she didn’t end up needing.

CHANDLER, Ariz. — An Arizona woman is on the hook for more than $14,000 in medical bills after she was air lifted from one hospital to another because she was told she needed emergency surgery, but ended up not needing it.

The biggest bill sent to Amy Maher’s insurance was more than $50,000. It came from the company who airlifted her from a hospital in Maricopa to the other in Chandler. It’s those air transport bills that have been increasing across the country.

Maher went to Exceptional Community Hospital-Maricopa back in March, where she said she was told she had an ectopic pregnancy.

“You need to have emergency surgery, we got to air evac you, we’re not a facility that’s equipped to do surgery,” Maher recalls the doctor telling her.

Maher said she was taken from Exceptional Community Hospital-Maricopa to Chandler Regional Medical Center.

“The ER doctor at Chandler comes in and says, ‘Why are you here? And why were you helicoptered?’,” Maher said.

Months later, the bill comes in from Air Methods, the company who transported her from Maricopa to Chandler.

“The total amount is $50,867.77,” Maher said.

That amount is before insurance.

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This year, the so-called, ‘No Surprises Act’ went into effect and appears to have helped her bill.

The federal law bans billing patients for more than the in-network costs.

In Maher’s case, her explanation of benefits shows insurance “repriced” or ‘covered’ the helicopter flight at about $29,000, and paid about $18,000.

Even so, Maher’s still on the hook for $11,000, just for the flight.

“Those numbers have basically tripled over the last 12 years or so,” said Loren Adler, associate director of the USC-Brookings Schaeffer Initiative for Health Policy.

Adler says charges for air transport have been going up across the country.

Adler said the $50,000 charge is common now, that charge used to be around $15,000.

“Sort of two large companies here are getting paid more than anyone else,” Adler said.

A GAO report said the flight company has risen its prices 283% from 2007 to 2006.

Adler expects the No Surprises Act could help the high costs.

“Even if the price is being kept to a more reasonable level, still owing $1,000 is never is going to be a simple thing,” Adler said.

12News contacted Maher’s insurance company, asking about why they didn’t negotiate the price down more, but they have yet to respond to our request.

A spokesperson for Air Methods told 12News the company could not answer all of our questions Tuesday about their average prices and recent price increases.

The spokesperson said they’re working on a prepared statement.

“I want to know why they think that they can, you know, charge these amounts and get away with it,” Maher said.

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