Montana Public Radio

Glacier County Sues Indian Health Service Claiming $1.8 Million In Unpaid Bills

Jan 6, 2020

Glacier County is no longer transferring patients from the U.S. Indian Health Service’s Browning facility to other hospitals. The county is now suing the IHS, saying the federal agency owes over $1.8 million for ambulance rides dating back to 2014. IHS says it can’t verify the county’s claim.

Glacier County commissioners canceled the county’s contract to transfer patients from the Blackfeet Community Hospital in Browning to other hospitals for additional care last month, saying the agency failed to hold up its end of the deal.

At the time, IHS said it had been working for nine months to substantiate the roughly $1.8 million worth of claims the county says went unpaid between 2014 and 2018. The agency said the county was not providing proper documentation for it to do so. IHS also disputed the amount the county says it’s owed.

The county now hopes to settle the dispute via a lawsuit in U.S. District Court. The county filed its suit on Dec. 17 arguing that it can’t provide proper documentation to support its claim because IHS didn’t produce that paperwork when its doctors requested ambulance transfers.

IHS declined to comment on the court case. According to court documents provided by the county, an IHS lawyer told the county’s attorney in September that Glacier EMS was responsible for filing paperwork for each transfer to determine whether the patient was eligible for IHS services.

The county says the lack of payment has led it to lay off 11 EMS employees and utilize volunteers instead. It’s asking the court to order IHS to immediately pay the $1.8 million in question with interest. A request for comment was not returned by the Glacier County attorney in time for this story.

No hearings have been scheduled in the case.