Kane In Your Corner: Family is surprised with a hefty ambulance bill. Experts say it could happen to you.
Susan and George Spies were high school sweethearts, and married a little over 30 years.
Susan passed away from COPD in January, leaving behind George and her two sons.
"She was suffering the effects of COPD for probably three to four years. And just gradually got worse and worse. And then the last 12 months were completely debilitating," George says.
In her last few months, Susan went back and forth between Saint Mary's Hospital and different rehab centers - each time, by ambulance.
But when the bills started to come in, George realized two trips cost a lot more than the others – over $4,000 each - and insurance wouldn't cover them.
George is a firefighter and EMT - so are his kids - but he says he's never seen anything like it.
"I've been in this business for 35 years now and these bills are outrageous," George says.
Oct. 7, 2021: St. Mary's transports Susan to rehab, using its own ambulance service: the cost – $4,040.20
A month later, the rehab center sends her back to the hospital with a different ambulance service - this time the bill is just $328.
On Nov. 30, the hospital takes her to a different rehab, and once again, the hospital's ambulance company charges 10 times more - $4,010.82.
George says he contacted the hospital, the hospital's billing company, and his own insurance provider multiple times to discuss the charges, but never got anywhere.
"They sent me to collections. Actually, they're sending my wife to collections in her name," he says.
"I say, don't get an ambulance if you can help yourself, OK? Because it's going to cost you plenty," says patient advocate Ann Marie McIlwain.
McIlwain says what happened to the Spies could happen to you.
Congress outlawed most surprise medical bills in January, but not for ambulance rides, and she says once patients are in this situation, there aren't a lot of options.
"I can tell you from experience that you can negotiate. Usually you can come together in something that's a better place for you and acceptable to them," McIlwain says.
Kane in Your Corner contacted St. Mary's to ask about the Spies' expensive ambulance rides, and within hours, the hospital called George, took him out of collections and dramatically reduced his bills, from over $8,000 to under $800.
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A hospital spokesperson says what happened to the Spies was a "misstep," but did not elaborate on what that meant.
George says he's thrilled with the result, but says it should never have come to this, saying, "The day you sent the email, all of a sudden, my bills are changed. How many other hundreds if not thousands go unnoticed?"
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