Patient Charged $25,000 For 46-Mile Medical Helicopter Ride

Medical helicopters save lives, but are they always necessary? That's the question one man is asking after getting stuck paying 20 percent of a big bill.

The cost of a medical airlift for his wife didn't concern Jim Findley until the bill landed in his mailbox. “About $25,000 for a 46-mile ride.”

Jim’s wife had symptoms that led an emergency room doctor to order her to be taken by medical helicopter from Red Oak, Iowa to an Omaha hospital. His wife was released in a day after treatment for stress, which Jim says the family’s bank account is feeling because of a nearly $5,000 deductible, which insurance won't pay. “I can't second guess the doctor, but I think the problem with most families is the cost.”

A Montgomery County Memorial Hospital spokesman says calling in a helicopter is based on patient’s stability, deteriorating condition and test results, but need is discussed with the patient if capable or a family member if available.

Jim says need or cost never came up until the $25,000 bill came in. “Very shocking, I thought there was a mistake.” When a helicopter is called in by a doctor or authorities at the scene, cost is not discussed with the patient or relatives. “Give us an option or at least explain what the cost is going to be.” Findley says in some cases patients and relatives should be reassured that the need for a medical helicopter is well grounded.

Medical helicopters travel at 140 mph. Air Methods says when it comes to saving lives, it's not just about speed. An on-board nurse and paramedic are trained to care for critical patients.

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