COVID-19 patient faces $52K surprise medical bill after helicopter transfer

A 60-year-old Pennsylvania woman is facing a $52,112 bill from an air ambulance company after she was transferred via helicopter from one Philadelphia hospital to another, according to The New York Times.

The woman, hospitalized with COVID-19, was intubated and on a ventilator when her physicians said she needed to be moved to another in-network hospital 20 miles away with better critical care resources. 

The woman spent six weeks in the hospital and survived, but came home to a bill totalling $52,112 just for the helicopter transfer to the hospital.

The air ambulance company did not have a contract with her health insurance plan, Independence Blue Cross. The insurer initially said it would pay $7,539 of the bill, but later reneged, according to the report. 

"She was intubated and on a ventilator when her providers felt it was necessary that she be transferred," Leslie Pierce, a division chief at the Pennsylvania Insurance Department who handled the complaint that the patient submitted, told The New York Times. "She had no decision in the selection process."

The Pennsylvania woman's surprise medical bill is just one of many submitted to The New York Times, which is asking patients to send them in.

Another woman, 40-year-old Alice Navarro, was hospitalized for 10 days at an in-network hospital in Austin, Texas. Many of the physicians that she saw during her stay were out of network. As a result, her insurance plan has denied payment of $4,000 in charges. Ms. Navarro has been filing appeals with her insurer. 

"I think about the bills several times a day," Ms. Navarro told The New York Times. "How am I going to pay this all off?"  

Surprise medical bills occur when patients are billed unexpectedly for services after receiving care from an out-of-network provider.

Last year, Congress abandoned its plan to prevent surprise bills, after private-equity firms poured millions into ads opposing the plan, according to The New York Times.  

Read the full report here

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