Sunday, February 05, 2017

Senate committee approves bill to limit patients’ air ambulance costs


A bill to protect Montanans from extremely high air ambulance bills cleared a Senate committee with unanimous support Friday morning.

The Senate Business, Labor and Economic Issues Committee approved Senate Bill 44, after members added several amendments.

The bill, sponsored by Republican Sen. Gordon Vance of Belgrade, would require health insurers to cover the costs of air ambulance flights — whether or not the company is the insurer’s network of providers.

At a hearing last month, several Montanans testified that they faced up to $60,000 in out-of-pocket costs after loved ones were transported by out-of-network air ambulance services.

One of the amendments, brought forward by Vance himself, adjusted the amount insurers can be required to pay. It also limits SB 44 so it does not apply to air ambulance services controlled by Montana hospitals or that operate on private memberships.

Another amendment, proposed by Republican Sen. Steve Fitzpatrick of Great Falls, provides that most of the bill’s provisions will be invalidated if any section is found to be in conflict with federal law.

Vance says the changes will help balance the interests of consumers, insurers, hospitals and air ambulance services.

“We’ve put a lot of time into this over the past almost two years for the people of Montana, and we really think we’ve come up with something that could be a workable solution for everybody involved,” he said.

Sen. Ed Buttrey, a Republican from Great Falls, chairs the Business and Labor Committee. He praised the work that went into crafting SB 44 and its amendments.

“I think it’s part of a long-term solution to move the ball down the field,” said Buttrey.

The bill will now go to the full Senate for a vote.


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