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Air ambulance rides can camount to sky-high costs for families

News Article

April 25, 2016

NBC Montana

BUTTE, Mont. - On Friday, 3-year-old Landon Haight, of Butte, was airlifted to Spokane, Washington, after a boat dock fell and crushed him at Canyon Ferry Lake near Helena.

Haight later died at the hospital, and now his family's friends are trying to raise $60,000 to pay for the helicopter ride to the hospital using a GoFundMe page.

"I'm a nurse, and I work at the hospital in Helena, and I kind of know when we Life Flight out children that it's roughly somewhere between $60,000 to $70,000," said Haight's aunt, Rachael Houseworth.

"They (Haight's parents) live very simply, and they honestly pour everything they have into their kids. They aren't lavish in their house or anything like that,” she added. “I know, financially, this is going to become such a big burden, and my heart breaks thinking of them having to pay these bills and they don't have their son."

But they're not the only family faced with staggering medical bills.

Last year's legislature ordered a comprehensive study into the cost and coverage from private insurance and Medicaid for air ambulance rides.

"I had a friend, it was probably eight years ago, his daughter flew out to Spokane. I think the flight alone was $50,000 to $100,000," said Butte resident Brian Hettick. "When you're middle class, I don't think anybody can rebound from that. People go into debt."

According to a Montana Legislature study, air ambulances charge a lift-off rate and a rate per mile. They can cost anywhere from $11,000 to $15,000 just for the lift-off and the mileage can really add up.

"It's definitely really shocking. I never really had to be in an ambulance or airlifted or something like that, and if someone just asked me that, never in a million years would I have thought that it'd be $11,000. That's insane to me," said Whitehall resident Calli Dixon.

"I sure wouldn't be able to afford this and these rates, so I don't know what I would do," said Billings resident Chris Idstrom. "I honestly don't know, because these numbers are quite high just for take-off, and $133.10 per mile -- that's a lot of money."

The report etails Medicare and private insurance coverage and charitable contributions from the air ambulance companies.

Lawmakers will use all the information from the study to better understand the differences in Montana air ambulance services and the impact to patients.

In 2014, air ambulances flew 1,428 fixed-wing flights and 1,333 helicopter flights across Montana. Another 386 fixed-wing aircrafts and four helicopters flew out-of-state.