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Montana politics, elections and legislative news

Tester: Montana Caught In State-Federal Bind On Air Ambulances

Sen. Jon Tester
U.S. Senate

Montana lawmakers are pushing forward to check the high medical costs passed on to patients by some air ambulance and insurance companies. But U.S. Senator Jon Tester says getting support from Congress is a hard sell.

When a patient needs to get medical treatment fast, air ambulances provide a lifesaving service. But if that service is out of their insurance company’s network, which isn’t always in their control, a patient can land in financial ruin.

This week, Montana’s Economic Affairs Interim Committee unanimously agreed to sponsor two bills that could add regulations to air ambulance services in the state.

Tester applauds the lawmakers' work, but cautions that air ambulance providers may challenge additional state rules based on federal aviation laws.

"Or pull out of the state entirely, which wouldn’t be healthy. I think you have to be careful about that. I think you need to bring them in and they need to be part of the solution. You have to visit with them and talk with them. Make sure that you get the input because you don’t want to lose that service on one hand. On the other hand, they need to make a profit, but it needs to be a reasonable profit."

Tester says he thinks Congress needs to take action, but because this issue impacts rural America, it’s not a top priority for most lawmakers in D.C.

"The federal government hasn’t done anything at this point in time. They may never do anything at this point in time. So the fact that the state of Montana’s interim committees have stepped up I think speaks well of them."

In April, Tester and Republican Senator John Hoeven from North Dakota proposed amending federal aviation law to give states more power to regulate air ambulances. Their proposal has so far failed to go to vote in the U.S. Senate.

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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