Outrageous company pays the price


SEP 8, 2016

Your paper has, from time to time, published articles about the grotesquely expensive cost of air ambulance transportation. I would like to put in my own 2 cents on this issue, which is considerably better than the $36,500 a company attempted to charge me for emergency transportation from here to the University of Vermont Medical Center in South Burlington.

This was a bit more than a year ago, and it saved my life, but could have destroyed my fortune if I had to actually pay for the flight’s grossly bloated billing. I was stunned when I opened the bill and saw they expected me to cough up that amount and simply write a check to cover it.

This was for a 20-minute flight. It was a tiny jet, and my gurney barely fit in the passenger area. But the charge was utterly outrageous, and so were their attempts to collect it.

First, multiply the charge for the 20 minutes in the air by three to get the hourly rate, an astounding $109,500, folks! If that seems kinda high, just recall that about a year ago, a scandal erupted over Vice President Biden’s use of Air Force 2, which ran at “only” $47,000 per hour. The itty-bitty jet I was on translated to well over double the hourly cost of the well-equipped government jetliner.

And they expected me to pay what they demanded. Luckily for me, when I signed up for Obamacare, the Adirondack Medical Center navigator, an extremely helpful and competent health care provider, informed me I qualified for Medicaid because my income was so low. That was fine by me because I was in near-perfect health (I thought) except for persistent high blood pressure readings that did not make me feel bad.

Until my heart exploded, almost literally. No pain, but a lot of weakness and exhaustion, and a dire need for a six-hour open-heart surgery. Then came the bills.

Medicaid means no out-of-pocket expenses because it pays everything, but the air ambulance company, Rocky Mountain Holdings, was utterly ignorant of that fact and refused to bill Medicaid, instead going after me personally. I did what my doctor’s office advised and sent them a copy of my Medicaid card, and they sent me another bill. I figured that my previous communication got there too late, so I sent in another copy, and the next month they sent another bill. I wrote notes on the bill explaining it all, but they kept on sending bills every month until, after six months, they said they’d turn me over to a bill collector.

The billings all had a line in them emphasizing that the air ambulance service was governed by the laws of the state of Pennsylvania. Why would a company based in the Rockies use the laws of the state of Pennsylvania? That state, like all others, has a legislature that has proved itself adept in collecting contributions from the special interests and churning out laws enabling companies to charge exorbitant rates and to buy friendly bill collecting regulations.

So I did what any red-blooded American would do: I called them to complain. That’s how they got my phone number. I explained carefully the process of getting Medicaid to pay the bill and told him how I had repeatedly sent in my card and notes about the case. He just laughed and told me how the billing people never read correspondence or respond to it.

It didn’t occur to him (or the company) that ignoring letters might defeat the purpose of collecting on a bill.

Then, every week for the next three or four weeks, someone from the company phoned me on the same day and time that I called them, all demanding I pay the bill, each one of them completely lacking in knowledge about my letters and each of whom hadn’t bothered to read the notes of the previous collectors that I talked to.

Finally I went back to the navigator, who picked up the phone and got hold of a bigwig in the company and fixed the problem, for me at least. No more billings until several months later, when I opened a letter from Medicaid.

It said it was denying the claim. I was stunned and fearful until I read further, to where it said I did not have to pay this bill. Then it said the reason why the claim was denied:


It would have been paid had they just read my letters and contacted Medicaid during the first few months.

So yes, there is a God, one who appears to be an aficionado of poetic justice.

Rick Gombas lives in Saranac Lake.