June 02, 2016
DEVILS LAKE, N.D. - A Devils Lake woman had to be airlifted not once, but twice over the course of the last few years.
As she struggled to regain her strength, she was in for another shock. Despite having insurance, she was delivered a $58,000 bill.
Jennifer Johnson is celebrating her daughters high school graduation, smiling at old snapshots as she assembles a scrapbook.
Getting to watch her graduate is a gift for Johnson, there were times she wasn't sure she would survive to see her daughter step across the stage and receive her diploma.
Johnson: "Very time sensitive. When I went the first time, I had already had three strokes when my aneurism ruptured, and then I started to stroke again when they put me in a medically induced coma."
A med flight saved precious minutes. Johnson's condition was critical. She was airlifted to a hospital in Minneapolis, the transport saving valuable time.
Johnson was lucky to survive surgery, but this wouldn't be the last time she would be rushed to the hospital with her health hanging in the balance.
Johnson: "My first one, my doctor told me that you're probably not going to have a second one. Five years, almost to the day."
The aneurysms left Johnson fighting for her life, she took six months to return to work, leaving her ill prepared for the high price she would pay for her hospital transport.
Johnson: "The first time my insurance at the time was wonderful, I paid only $5,000 of the $20,000, but the second time, it came out to almost $58,000, just for transport. How am I gonna pay for this?”
Some insurance policies pay more than others for air transport, between the travel and trained professionals on board it can be a costly trip.
Tim Meyer, Sanford Airmed Enterprise Clinical Director: " We have a base rate and mileage, so it really depends on how far you go. For Sanford airmed the helicopter base rate is about $11,000 and $78 a mile.
For transport from Grand Forks to Fargo would be about $17,000, partnerships can prevent patients from paying these premium prices.
Meyer: "Being a part of a hospital system we have contracts with all of the insurance companies so, all of those rates are discounted per an agreement with an insurance company."
But when it comes to payment, how much money you're on the hook for could depend on taking hospital transport versus a private service.
Chelsey Matter, Blue Cross Blue Shield Provider Partnerships Director: “Typically what we have seen or experienced in the state is the air ambulance companies that are independent in nature typically charge a higher amount than the hospital based ones."
Insurances agencies like Blue Cross Blue Shield have agreements with air ambulances throughout the state, but Being transported by an out of state service, could have patients seeing bigger bills.
Matter: "There's other air ambulance providers throughout the country."
Matter says air ambulances outside of North Dakota may not agree to the company's reimbursement amounts, but they try to work with members to find a solution.
In Johnson's case, despite being airlifted by a service out of network, her insurance agency is coming to her aid.
"This time my insurance company sent me a $12,000 check to cover the copay for the flight, and then they decided to hire an attorney to fight for the rest. I have children, I have a lot going on, and now by mediocre job is not going to be able to pay this $40,000."
After what Johnson has been through, she doesn't worry about what will become of the lawsuit, for now she has a high school graduation to get ready for, followed by college and medical school.
Johnson: "Now, I'm pretty cautious. I hope it doesn't happen again but there's still a chance."
Johnson's insurance agency is still in the midst of legal action with the air ambulance over the bill.