Monday, July 31, 2017 - 08:00 am

BISMARCK, N.D. – The Insurance Department today released a guide to hospitals for consumers showing which air ambulance companies operating in North Dakota have contractual agreements (in-network) with the state’s three major health insurance companies – Blue Cross Blue Shield of North Dakota, Sanford Health Plan and Medica. The release of the guide follows the April signing of Senate Bill 2231, regarding the regulation of how insurance companies pay for air ambulance services in North Dakota. The bill also requires that beginning Aug. 1 hospitals notify patients in non-emergency situations of the network status of air ambulance companies with the patient’s health insurance provider.

“The guide released today, and its subsequent use in our health care facilities, is an easy and clear way of potentially saving an individual or family in a non-emergency situation from bankruptcy simply because they were transported between hospitals by an air ambulance that did not have a contractual agreement with their health insurance plan,” Godfread said. “Consumers in North Dakota should not have to face financial ruin for finding themselves in this position, especially in a non-emergency situation where a health care provider has the ability to educate a patient about which air ambulances are covered by a patient’s insurance and which are not.”

Air ambulance has become a more frequently used mode of transport for individuals needing medical care, even in non-emergency situations. Despite a patient having health insurance, often times they are then faced with large, unexpected bills for the full cost of the flight or the balance left after a partial payment is made by the patient’s insurance company, a practice known as “balance billing.” Insurance does not cover the full cost of an air ambulance when the ambulance provider does not have a contract with the patient’s health plan.

Godfread added that the Department fully understands the value of the life-saving service provided by air ambulance transport but hopes this bill and the requirements within it will save families from financial devastation. “We must find a way to slow the overutilization of air ambulance and reduce the financial burden these services are placing on North Dakotans.”

From 2013 through July 2017, the Department has received 32 complaints totaling $1.77 million in charges for air ambulance services. Based upon these complaints, each air ambulance ride has costed the consumer $55,341 on average. Consumers in North Dakota have reported being billed amounts ranging from $18-$83,613. However, these numbers don’t include the hundreds of complaints that have been made directly to insurance companies regarding air ambulance services.

In a non-emergency situation, patients may have transport options outside of air ambulance. Before accepting an air ambulance ride, they should discuss other options with their health care provider or their insurance company.