Mont. Senate panel advances bill addressing air ambulance costs
Under an amendment, any dispute over the cost and coverage of air ambulance services would take place between the air ambulance provider and the health plan
By Amy Beth Hanson
HELENA, Mont. — A Senate committee has advanced legislation that would prevent patients from receiving huge bills from air ambulance providers that are not in-network with their insurance plans.
The Senate Business, Labor and Economic Affairs Committee unanimously approved the measure Friday, sending it to the full Senate.
The committee approved an amendment saying that if a court rules any part of the proposed law is invalid, any dispute over the cost and coverage of air ambulance services would take place between the air ambulance provider and the health plan. The patient would be held responsible only for co-payments, co-insurance and deductibles.
Senate Bill 44 outlines a process to determine the fair market value of air ambulance services. An independent reviewer would take into account the training and composition of the air ambulance crew, the amounts usually charged and accepted for payment for such services in Montana and the Medicare payment rate.
The bill was the product of a working group that heard from patients who had received unexpected bills for tens of thousands of dollars, hospital-based and for-profit air ambulance providers along with insurance companies and health plans.
The for-profit air ambulance companies said insurers' in-network rates don't cover their costs while insurers counter that air ambulances won't disclose their costs so they could arrive at a reasonable reimbursement rate. Hospital-based air ambulance providers said they were able to make the finances work with the in-network rates paid by insurers.
Other states that have tried to regulate air ambulance costs have been sued for violating the federal Airline Deregulation Act, which prohibits states from interfering with airline fares and services. Courts have ruled the act applies to air ambulance services, as well.
The bill's sponsor, Sen. Gordon Vance, R-Belgrade, said Friday that after working on the issue for two years nobody is really happy with the bill, which he said was a good sign that it was a compromise.