A $52,112 Helicopter Ride: Coronavirus Patients Battle Surprise Medical Bills

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An intubated coronavirus patient was declining rapidly when doctors decided to airlift her to a hospital with better critical care resources.“It’s life or death,” the family of the 60-year-old woman recalled being told when it happened in April. “We have to transfer her now.”The patient was flown by helicopter from one Philadelphia hospital to another 20 miles away. She spent six weeks at the new hospital and survived. When she came home, a letter arrived: The air ambulance company said she owed $52,112 for the trip.Last year, Congress abandoned its attempt to prevent surprise bills like this one, and coronavirus patients are now paying the price. Bills submitted to The New York Times show that patients often face surprise charges from out-of-network doctors, ambulances and medical laboratories they did not pick or even realize were involved in their care.The plan to ban these kinds of bills was popular and bipartisan, and it was backed by the White House. It fell apart at the 11th hour after private-equity firms, which own many of the medical providers that deliver surprise bills, poured millions into advertisements opposing the plan. Committee chairs squabbled over jurisdictional issues and postponed the issue. Then …

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