April 15, 2016
Montana Public Radio
An attempt to regulate air ambulance services supported by Democratic Senator Jon Tester struck out in the U.S. Senate Thursday.
Over the past year, Montana’s Insurance Commissioner's office has been receiving an increasing number of complaints from patients, who were surprised when they were handed large bills from air ambulance companies when they thought the service was covered by insurance.
Tester’s amendment to the Federal Aviation Administration Reauthorization Act didn’t even get a vote. He was pushing for it with Republican Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota.
The amendment would have granted states more power to regulate air ambulances. Current federal law prevents states from regulating air ambulances rates, routes or services.
“This is a relatively new issue back here," said Tester's Communication Director Marnee Banks. "This is the first time the Senate has tackled the issue of these outrageously high prices of air ambulances. So it is going to take a while for Jon and Senator Hoeven to educate their colleagues on the importance of this issue.”
Banks says an amendment changing states' abilities to regulate air ambulances could be attached to other appropriations bills passing through the Senate this year. If that doesn’t work, Banks says this issue may need a bill of its own.
A working group of Montana legislators and industry representatives are meeting at the state capitol to discuss this issue May 25.