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Fort Collins family faces large bill after air ambulance flight

REACH Air Medical Services charged a little under $65,000 for the flight. The family's insurance company covered $28,000.

FORT COLLINS, Colo. — An infant in Fort Collins needed to be transported by an air ambulance to save his life. Now the provider is billing his parents more than $35,000, which is money they don't have. 

The company charged them even after the insurance company already paid nearly $30,000 for the roughly 60-mile flight.

Today, Sebastian Coy is a happy and healthy 2-year-old. His mom, Andrea, cherishes moments with him in the backyard after Sebastian got really sick last year. 

"His oxygen levels were really low and what we later found out through testing was he had a couple different viruses, bronchiolitis and bacterial pneumonia," she said.

Sebastian spent a couple nights at Poudre Valley Hospital in Fort Collins, until doctors said he was getting worse and needed to go to Children's Hospital in Aurora. 

"Told us he's not getting better and we can't provide the level of care he needs anymore," Coy said. "We are requiring, requesting, his transport to Children's Hospital via air ambulance, and they were already on their way. About five minutes out at that point."

Coy felt she had no choice -- take the helicopter ride or her son won't get better.

"Do you want your son to continue breathing? That's not a choice," she said. 

REACH Air Medical Services charged a little under $65,000 for the roughly 60-mile flight. Her insurance company covered $28,000, which left her a balance of more than $36,000.

"Having to deal with all of the expenses we have had pile up over this – it is insulting, honestly," she said. "It is insulting they think they deserve an additional $40,000 from me or the insurance company."

Loren Adler studies health policy at the University of Southern California. He believes it's significant for the company to get paid nearly $30,000 already for the flight.

"Whereas, Medicare would have paid $7,000 and even if this was an air ambulance - another private sector air ambulance, not private equity - they probably would have gotten paid $20,000," Adler said. 

A spokesperson for REACH Air Medical Services said they won't take legal recourse against the family for not paying. Coy said that doesn't make her feel better when all she was focused on was bringing Sebastian home. 

"Why do they get to take advantage of people in their darkest moment and their biggest moment of need?" she said.

A spokesperson for REACH Air Medical Services said the patient's insurance company is putting the family in the middle. 

"If we appeal directly to United Healthcare, they insist on the patient appealing because we have no contractual right to appeal," the spokesperson said. "We need the patient’s assistance in completing that appeal. While we try to minimize the involvement of the patient, United Healthcare requires it."

A federal law took effect this year that creates new protections against surprise medical bills, including from air ambulance companies. It should appear to the patient as if the ride is in-network. Coy and her family aren't covered under these protections because the flight occurred last year.

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