Costly air ambulance bills highlights neighbor island issue

HONOLULU (AP) — A Kauai man is suing his health insurer over a $36,000 air ambulance bill — a case that illustrates the high costs of emergency air transport, which is essential for people living on the neighbor islands.

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HONOLULU (AP) — A Kauai man is suing his health insurer over a $36,000 air ambulance bill — a case that illustrates the high costs of emergency air transport, which is essential for people living on the neighbor islands.

On islands where there are limited health care services and specialists, it’s common to transport patients to Honolulu on flights.

There are two Hawaii air ambulance providers, but one company charges thousands of dollars more.

Hawaii Life Flight sets its rates at an “industry standard,” said Shanon Pollock, vice president of business development for its parent company, Air Medical Resource Group, based in South Jordan, Utah. A Hawaii Life Flight bill for emergency transportation from Hilo to Oahu in December 2013 totaled nearly $71,000. It listed base rate of about $16,000 and a mileage charge of about $54,000.

The same flight on AMR Air Hawaii would be about $20,000. AMR said it charges a base rate of $14,000 per flight and $25 per mile.

Rates skyrocketed after Hawaii Life Flight merged with AirMed Hawaii in 2010, said Speedy Bailey, general manager of AMR, which entered the market in 2013.

Air ambulance companies are required to transport patients regardless of their ability to pay. States are prohibited from regulating air ambulance rates.

Toby Sidlo filed the class-action lawsuit after falling into a bonfire last year during a beach football game. The lawsuit filed in July claims Kaiser is responsible for paying the charges. Doctors decided to fly him to a Honolulu burn care unit for treatment.

Kaiser declined to comment on pending litigation.

State Sen. Josh Green, a Kohala Hospital emergency room doctor, said doctors select the company that can transport the patient the quickest.

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“I never favor one over the other based on costs,” he said. “I have to make sure the patient doesn’t have a tragic outcome.”

Air ambulance companies have to charge high rates to make up for their low reimbursement rates from most patients, said the Association of Air Medical Services, based in Virginia.

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