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I-Team: Sky-high air ambulance bills

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((nick)) medical helicopters are something many of us hope to never need -- but if you do -- are you prepared to pay a hefty price tag? even if you have insurance -- it's possible to get stuck with a 20, 30 -- even 40-thousand dollar bill for those life-saving services. eyewitness news reporter kelly choate joins us live now with this i-team investigation .. kelly? ((kelly)) good evening, nick. the i-team started looking into these sky-high air ambulance bills -- after a crash in august that injured seven relatives in luzerne county. two adults and three children were flown to hospitals. when we posted that story on our eyewitness news facebook page -- some of you shared your own experiences about the high cost of medical helicopter flights. and as i found out -- you aren't alone in your complaints.

"helicopter"when you have a medical emergency -- a helicopter is often the quickest way to get you to the hospital for treatment that could save your life. it's something gary karwaskifound out first-hand after he fell off the roof of his pike county cabin in june 2015.gary karwaski"broke my femur, crushed my hip, and i fractured a couple vertebrae in my back."but the pharmacist from luzerne county says his heart didn't skip a beat -- until he got the bill about two weeks later. for a 24-mile flight from promised land state park to geisinger community medical center in scranton -- karwaskiwas charged $42,569.20!gary karwaski"what is your reaction when you see that number? well, i thought it was a mistake!"unfortunately for karwaski-- it wasn't. his insurance company only covered about 12-thousand dollars -- leaving him with the 30- thousand dollar balance. and he says the only breakdown of the charges is the lift fee and the number of miles flown -- that's it -- no detailed explanation of that 42- thousand dollar bill. a spokesperson for the medical helicopter provider -- "air methods" -- doing business as "rocky mountain holdings, llc" -- told me the lift fee includes the aircraft -- state-of-the-art medical equipment -- an e-m-s pilot -- fuel -- and other services -- but didn't provide any specific figures.gary karwaski "it was so aggravating and stressful, almost as stressful as the accident itself! karwaskisays he was overwhelmed by phone calls and letters from "rocky mountain holdings, llc" -- demanding money he didn't have. he says the company offered to come to an agreement -- but only if he provided his tax returns -- investments -- and other financial information -- which karwaskideclined to do. the spokesperson says it's part of the qualification process to offer assistance that matches the patient's level of need. gary karwaski"if i had more, i should pay more, but if i had nothing, then i'm ok? that doesn't make sense!"karwaski's account was handed over to a collection agency -- so he hired an attorney -- and settled for 75-hundred dollars. a large part of the problem when it comes to sky-high bills is dramatically low government reimbursement rates -- at least according to "save our air medical resources" -- or "soar". carter johnson -- with that campaign -- told me in a skype interview that seven out of ten transports are patients who have medicare, medicaid, or no insurance at all. and pennsylvania has the lowest medicaid reimbursement in the nation for air ambulance services -- only covering about $200 -- when the fuel alone can cost about $450. carter johnson"when they're transported, the cost of that is being shifted onto the 30% of folks who have private insurance, and that's just unsustainable."jessica altman is the acting insurance commissioner for the pennsylvania insurance department. she says right now -- there's not much the commonwealth can do to protect these patients -- because a federal law prohibits states from regulating medical helicopters.jessica altman"so we've been looking to congress, and there has been some interest in congress taking action to allow states to regulate this situation." but as each day goes by without a solution -- karwaski can only think about how many more people -- just like him -- will have to suffer a financial hardship -- after the physical pain of a serious injury.gary karwaski"my wife and i will be driving in the car, we'll see a helicopter, and we'll look at each other like, do they have any idea what awaits them?" ((kelly)) if you're having problems with an air ambulance bill -- you can file a complaint through the pennsylvania insurance department. we have that contact information over on our website, p-a homepage dot com. that's also where you'll find some helpful links -- and more in-depth interviews from this i-team investigation. live for the i-team -- kelly choate -- eyewitness news. ((nick)) thanks, kelly. by the way -- if you have a story idea for the i-team -- just send us an email -- "news desk at p-a homepage dot

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