Stroke patient billed $474K for medical flight

A 34-year-old stroke patient was stuck with a bill for nearly a half-million dollars after taking a flight from Wichita, Kansas, to Boston to see a neurosurgeon.

According to Kaiser Health News, Kristina Cunningham was in stable condition but still had two blood clots at the base of her brain after suffering a stroke six days earlier when she took the medical flight on a Learjet in June. They considered transferring her to hospitals that were closer, but Massachusetts General Hospital was chosen as the final destination because it was only an hour away from Cunningham’s home and her 7-year-old son.

Cunningham’s father, Jim Royer, said they assumed the flight would be covered “because it was supposedly preapproved by the insurer before any flight took place.”

But about two months later, a bill arrived with $474,725 in the “other amounts not covered column,” with $389,125 of that amount stemming from a per-mile charge. That breaks down to $275 per mile.

“It’s larger than any surprise medical bill I’ve personally seen,” Chuck Bell, program director for the advocacy division at Consumer Reports, told KHN. “It’s really outrageous.”

Royer said he felt Angel MedFlight inflated the bill in an effort to get a hefty settlement from Cunningham’s private insurer, CareFirst BlueCross BlueShield, but Angel MedFlight’s chief operating officer, Andrew Bess, denied that claim in a statement.

“Staffing what is essentially an Intensive Care Unit at 30,000 feet presents unique medical and aviation challenges that may not be apparent to those outside of the medical aviation industry,” Andrew Bess wrote. “The amount we receive per flight is a fraction of the billed charge.”

CareFirst has now proposed to pay more than $70,000 of the bill, about one-seventh of the original charge, but Bell told KHN that Angel MedFlight might still request money directly from Cunningham if it finds the insurance reimbursement “inadequate.”

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