Monday, January 23, 2012
Help Me Howard: $19,000 Helicopter Ride
You are in an accident. They decide you need to be airlifted to the hospital. The good news is, you can get a helicopter, but what happens if your insurance does not cover the ride? Are you responsible for the emergency airlift? It's why one woman called Help Me Howard with Patrick Fraser.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "Well, I seriously love it. I seriously like doing it."
Likes riding down the street and down the state, which is why she was in the Keys on a ride.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "And I ran into the guy in front of me, fell down and cracked my helmet, had a little brain bleed and broke my hand."
Deanna was taken to the hospital in Key Largo, where doctors told her she needed to be observed overnight for the brain bleed. But they didn't have a neurologist on staff, so she needed to be transferred to another hospital.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "And I said, 'Well, what does that mean?' 'Well, they would have to send a helicopter.' I was fully conscious throughout the whole accident, and I said, 'Wow,' because I know helicopters are expensive."
Deanna says she then asked the people at the hospital to make sure her insurance would cover a helicopter ride and assumed someone checked with the helicopter company.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "I was told, 'They are on their way, they checked your insurance.' In my logical mind, that meant they were happy."
Deanna was flown to Davie. Her head was fine, and the next day, she went home. But a few days later, the bill for the helicopter ride really left her head splitting.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "I got a $19,000 bill."
Deanna's insurance policy covered $4,500 of the $19,000 air transport bill. They paid their share. Then, the helicopter company sent Deanna her share.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "And then, I got a bill for $14,000 and change for the difference."
Deanna checked with people in the medical field, who said the ride from Key Largo to Weston was only worth $7,000. Deanna told the helicopter company she would pay her share of that."
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "'I'm more than willing to write you a check right now for the difference, which would be $2,000 and change,' and they keep insisting they want $14,000."
When Deanna said she could not afford the $14,798 for her share of the helicopter ride, she was turned over to a collection agency.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "I called the collection company, and she arrogantly told me I was lucky to be alive, and I explained to her, 'I was never close to death.'"
Deanna says if she had known the helicopter ride would leave her with a bill for $14,000 plus, she would have driven to a hospital in Dade with her husband, because it's a bill she can't pay.
Deanna Stolberg, Expensive Helicopter Ride: "I'm hoping you can help me. I'm hoping you can talk some sense into them."
Well Howard, since Deanna asked to make sure her insurance would pay for the helicopter ride, does she have to pay for it?
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "If Deanna asked that someone check to make sure her insurance covered the helicopter ride, she might have a chance to force them to pay part of the bill. However, she had a bleeding brain. It's considered an emergency, and the hospital has to do what is best for the patient and worry about a payment later."
I started trying to resolve this six months ago. I contacted both hospitals Deanna was at and her insurance company. No one had a record of anyone checking to see if the helicopter ride would be fully covered.
I also spoke to the helicopter company. They told me an air transport with staff costs $18,000 just to break even, that they don't check to see if a patient can afford the airlift before an emergency transport.
They did add, they try to work with the patient based on need and would try to help Deanna.
Howard Finkelstein, 7 News Legal Expert: "Deanna was transported by a private helicopter company. If you are transported by a city or county emergency helicopter, you still have to pay. How much depends on your insurance, and if you don't have insurance and it's an emergency, they still have to transport you."
Deanna then quit talking to me. All she would say is, 'I really like you guys, but I can't say anything to you.'
That means someone paid more or accepted less.
It also means Deanna signed an agreement to not discuss it.
She is happy, we are happy. Everything turned out great.
Patrick Fraser: "Glad it all worked out for her. One thing: If you call a health care provider, a hospital, a doctor, a helicopter company, don't ask if they take your insurance. Ask if they are in your insurance company's network, and confirm that with your insurance company. Of course, if it's an emergency like Deanna, you won't have the time, but if you can, check it out."
Problems landed in your lap you wanna see take flight? Contact us. Our plan covers everything, and the only thing we deduct are the brain cells Howard has to burn up to get an answer.
CONTACT HELP ME HOWARD:
EMAIL: firstname.lastname@example.org (Please include your contact phone number when emailing)
REPORTER: Patrick Fraser at email@example.com