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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Montana Lawmakers Look To Rein-In Air Ambulance Bills

In an effort to control prices on air ambulance rides in Montana, lawmakers are considering urging Congress to revise the Airline Deregulation Act of 1978.
Christopher Ebdon (CC-BY-NC-SA)
Montana Lawmakers Look To Rein-In Air Ambulance Bills

Montana policymakers looking to protect consumers from giant bills for air ambulance service are taking a close look at North Dakota’s attempt. North Dakota’s law was struck down by a federal judge last month.

In 2015 the North Dakota legislature passed a bill that imposed rules on the operators of air ambulances. The bill created a primary call list for health care providers of in-network air ambulance companies, in hopes this would prevent some patients from unknowingly getting out-of-network rides. When that happens, a patient can end up with a bill upwards of a $100,000.

Montana State Auditor’s Office attorney Nick Mazanec explained the situation to an interim legislative working group addressing the high costs of air ambulances in Montana.

"In order to be on the primary call tier an air ambulance provider had to be in-network with at least 75 percent of the market."

The federal judge decided that the North Dakota law violated federal airline deregulation laws that prohibit states from regulating air ambulance companies’ rates, routes and services.

That decision served as a reminder to Montana lawmakers that legislation they’re currently working on for the 2017 session would have to be careful not bump up against existing federal aviation laws.

On Thursday, Democratic U.S. Senator Jon Tester, along with Republican U.S. Senator from North Dakota, John Hoeven, filed an amendment to legislation in the Senate aiming to change those federal laws.

A press release from Tester’s office says the amendment will empower states to decide whether they want to create rules regarding air ambulance rates and services.

Corin Cates-Carney manages MTPR’s daily and long-term news projects. After spending more than five years living and reporting across Western and Central Montana, he became news director in early 2020.
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