Fatal wreck near Logan

In this file photo, first responders load a patient into a REACH Air Medical Services air ambulance after a two-car collision on frontage road east of Logan on March 7, 2017.

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A Gallatin County family who says they were billed more than $109,000 for an air ambulance trip to Denver after their 6-year-old son was diagnosed with a brain tumor have filed a class-action lawsuit against REACH Air Medical Services, saying the service overcharged them after failing to tell them how much the trip would cost.

A representative of the California-based company, VP of business relations Anna Blair, declined to comment on the filing Friday, saying the company’s legal department hadn’t yet had a chance to finish reviewing the case.

“We will address it appropriately,” she said.

The plaintiffs, Stan and Rainy Wagner, are represented by Bozeman attorneys Matt Kelly, Margaret Weamer, Travis Kinzler and Daniel Buckley. Certifying the suit as a class action, the attorneys say, will let them seek damages for other air ambulance clients in similar situations.

Air ambulance services saw substantial scrutiny at the Montana Legislature this year, following a number of situations where patients were billed financially crippling amounts. Multiple regulatory measures were ultimately signed into law, including Senate Bill 44, which aims to protect Montanans from out-of-pocket charges in situations where air ambulance services aren’t fully covered by their insurance.

According to details provided in the initial legal filing, the Wagners took their 6-year-old son to his pediatrician in August 2015, after the boy suffered headaches, vomited and had trouble walking. A CT scan indicated the child was suffering from a life-threatening brain tumor, and the doctor recommended he be immediately transported to the Children’s Hospital in Denver for treatment.

The Wagners say they agreed to have their son transferred from Bozeman to Denver via a REACH air ambulance dispatched by Bozeman Health Deaconess Hospital. However, they say, the contract they agreed to didn’t specify the cost for the one-way flight.

The following February the family says REACH billed them for $109,590 — a $15,965 base rate and a $175-per-mile charge for 535 miles in a fixed-wing aircraft.

Their insurer, BlueCross BlueShield of Montana, paid $22,933 of the bill and tried to charge the family for a balance of $40,057 — including late fees but reflecting a lower per-mile rate of $81.96 a mile, the lawsuit says.

“The amount sought... exceeds reasonable amounts typically charged in Montana for similar air-ambulance transport and the charges do not represent the reasonable worth of the services rendered,” write the Wagners’ attorneys.

The Wagners and their attorneys argue that REACH, which owns Summit Air Ambulance, should re-examine the bills it has sent its customers, reducing them to a fair value. They also say the company should be required to specify its billing rates in its contracts up front or charge more reasonable rates.

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Eric Dietrich can be reached at 406-582-2628 or edietrich@dailychronicle.com. He is on Twitter at @eidietrich.


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