LAKE WYLIE, S.C. -- In June of 2011 the I-Team reported how an upstate South Carolina man got hit with a $58,000 bill for an air ambulance he didn't want or need.
The hefty bill was deemed "not medically necessary by his insurance company."
Now the air ambulance company has agreed to cut the bill to $32,000 and the insurance company has paid the debt.
The patient is relieved but with some hard-won lessons about the vagaries of health care costs.
Charles Pridmore of Gaffney, SC was fishing on Lake Wylie last June with a buddy when he felt a tingling in his arm, then a numbness.
It was a stroke.
A 9-1-1 call and an ambulance ride later, Pridmore found himself at Piedmont Medical Center in Rock Hill.
Pridmore says a specialist from MUSC in Charleston spoke to him through a video hookup and strongly recommended that he get to Charleston as quickly as possible. That meant an air ambulance.
But the air ambulance Piedmont chose was not the closest chopper, or even the next closest. Pridmore says hospital staff insisted on an air ambulance located in Conway, more than 140 miles away.
Pridmore says the chopper had to refuel and then fly him almost 200 miles south to Charleston. Pridmore could have made it to a stroke center in Charlotte, only 25 miles away, in a fraction of the time and at a small fraction of the cost.
The good news: he survived and now walks without a cane.
The bad news: Mr. Pridmore and his wife were in for a months-long battle with the successor company to the original air ambulance over the bill.
"They settled for $32,000 and I didn't have to pay any more which I thank God for," said Pridmore. "But you know it was still too much," he continued.
Medicare and Medicaid cap the amount the taxpayers will pay for air ambulance service. While 9-1-1 emergency dispatchers call in the closest chopper in the field, hospitals make the call when they transfer patients from one medical center to another.
Based on his first person experience, Mr. Pridmore thinks the industry could bear with a lot more scrutiny.