After a year, insurance agrees to cover $60k air ambulance bill


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Days after Steve On Your Side contacted Anthem, the insurance company agreed to pay the claim.

DOUGLAS COUNTY, Colo. — When an emergency room doctor said their 11-month-old daughter needed a helicopter transport to another hospital, Cole and Betsy Burdette didn’t hesitate.

That morning in March 2023, Millie turned pale and was struggling to breathe. Her parents rushed her to the closest pediatric hospital, Children’s Hospital Colorado’s south campus in Highlands Ranch. There, an ER doctor told them Millie needed more care than they could provide, and they needed to get her to the Children’s main campus in Aurora. 

And, the doctor said, he was ordering a helicopter. 

“When you take a child to the hospital, you are putting her in the care of experts,” Cole Burdette said. “So they come up with a treatment plan. It’s not a democracy. They just tell you what they’re going to do and you say, ‘Yeah, absolutely do whatever you need to do to get her better.'”

The ride was eight minutes long. Millie was hooked up to a BiPAP machine to help her breathe the whole way. She got to Aurora and went straight to the pediatric ICU, where she recovered and was released a few days later. 

A few months after that, the bill for the air ambulance came. 

“We got this $60,000 bill in the mail,” Burdette said. “And we’re like, ‘this is strange.’ Like, we have insurance. We pay our premiums. We met the deductible.” 

Burdette called their insurance company, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield. The company said they weren’t paying the bill, and a letter in the mail a few days later confirmed it. The letter said Millie didn’t meet some of the five criteria she needed to meet in order to take an air ambulance. Specifically, Anthem said, she wasn’t sick enough. 

The family appealed, sending along her medical charts. They were denied again. This time, the insurance company said a ground ambulance would have done the job.

“When a family is in a hospital with a critically ill baby, you’re not going to pull out your insurance handbook and be like ‘hey, hold on, doc, we need to make sure that we’re ticking all these boxes before we order this helicopter,” Burdette said. 

They appealed again, and were denied again. That’s when they called Steve on Your Side. 

Anthem told us the whole thing was a result of a mistake by the hospital, which, they said, never got authorization for an air transport. 

“The provider was given authorization for ground transport but instead transported her by air,” an Anthem spokesperson said in an email to 9NEWS. “We rely on health care providers to provide accurate information when submitting claims. Unfortunately, that did not occur in this case. This resulted in the claim being correctly denied and the air ambulance company sending an exceptionally expensive bill to the family through no fault of their own.”

Children’s Hospital Colorado didn’t directly answer our questions about the authorization issue, but said “when an insurance payor disagrees with us, we have processes in place to assist with appeals and advocate for coverage on behalf of our patients.” 

After the Burdettes spent the better part of a year going back and forth with their insurance company, just a couple of days after we contacted Anthem, they agreed to pay the claim. In the emailed statement, Anthem said “an exception was made to cover the cost of the trip.”

One thing the Burdettes said they wish they’d done sooner is contact the hospital. Children’s said if a parent has a question about a bill, they should contact the hospital right away. 

> Have a consumer tip for Steve On Your Side? Click here to fill out a form to send it to Consumer Investigator Steve Staeger.

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After a year, insurance agrees to cover $60k air ambulance bill

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