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Lawmakers back air ambulance bill to protect consumers

 

Date: August 30, 2016
Source: Bozeman Daily Chronicle
Author:  Troy Carter

 

A bipartisan legislative committee in Helena decided Tuesday to sponsor a bill aimed at forcing air ambulances and insurance companies to voluntarily negotiate the costs of transporting a patient.

Calling it a “hold harmless” bill, the interim Economic Affairs Committee voted unanimously to send the bill to the 2017 Legislature with its blessing. It will be carried by Republican state Sen. Gordy Vance of Bozeman.

If it becomes law, private out-of-network air ambulance companies would not be allowed to bill insured patients they transport, contact a credit agency about a delinquent patient or put liens on their property. Instead, the bill states that insurance companies are responsible for costs in excess of the patient’s insurance plan and that they and the air ambulance company must voluntarily enter binding arbitration over a cost dispute — or go to court.

The bill aims to find the “sweet spot between air ambulances and insurers,” Jesse Laslovich, an attorney from the state auditor’s office, told lawmakers. Families, he said, will no longer have to worry about medical bankruptcy.

The decision comes as a result of the committee’s Air Ambulance Working Group, which has met for the past eight months. Lawmakers created the group in response to “horror stories” about Montanans receiving air ambulance bills for tens of thousands of dollars after their insurance companies paid only a portion of the bill.

At the hearing Tuesday, representatives from two insurance companies, including Blue Cross Blue Shield, voiced opposition.

“We still believe the solution should be executed at the federal level,” Bill Lombardi of Blue Cross Blue Shield told the committee.

Sens. John Hoeven, R-North Dakota, and Jon Tester, D-Montana, have introduced an amendment on Capitol Hill that would allow states to create primary and secondary air ambulance call lists.

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The amendment comes as a federal judge invalidated a North Dakota law that did exactly that, saying the state’s law violated the federal Airline Deregulation Act. However, no action on the amendment is expected during this Congress.

A second bill also backed by the committee will place private air ambulance memberships back under the jurisdiction of the state’s insurance commissioner. They were exempted from Montana’s insurance code by the 2011 Legislature.

The Legislature convenes in January.

Troy Carter can be reached at 582-2630 or tcarter@dailychronicle.com. He’s on Twitter at @cartertroy.