TEXAS – While a Plano man is livid about receiving a near-$30,000 bill for being flown 47 miles between hospitals in West Texas, KVUE found air ambulance services are not regulated in terms of price. The Texas Department of Health and Human Services only regulates in terms of qualifications of on-board medical staff and on-board medical equipment.
Hugh Sparks of Plano was driving with his son on Highway 380 near Haskell when they stopped to take pictures of the wide variety of snakes that were crossing the road. At some point, he said he was bit by a rattlesnake, so they drove to the nearest hospital.
He was given his first doses of anti-venom at the closest hospital until the medical team told him he would need to be taken by helicopter to a bigger hospital in Abilene. The air ambulance bill, for the 47-mile trip to Abilene, was $43,514.56. Blue Cross Blue Shield agreed to pay $13,827.15. That left Sparks holding a bill for $29,687.41.
The federal Airline Deregulation Act of 1978 does not allow for state or local regulation of rates for commercial carriers, including air ambulance services. So, they can charge whatever they want.
But in many cases, especially in rural areas where there may only be one service provider companies encourage purchasing a membership and paying a monthly fee which allows for customers not to get billed for any amount beyond what their insurance covers.
As for public air ambulance services, like STAR Flight in Travis County, local governments operating the service set their own rates as well. In June Travis County Commissioners set the base rate for STAR Flight service at $15,500 with additional fees of $200 per mile. At that rate the 47 mile ride from the hospital in Haskell to the bigger one in Abilene would have cost $24,900. Assuming his insurance would have covered the same $13,827 he would still have had an out of pocket bill of at least $11,073.