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Air ambulances, backed by private equity firms, leave patients with $45,000 bills

That rapid growth has made stories such as the Cox family’s more common. The air-ambulance industry says reimbursements from U.S. government health programs, including Medicare and Medicaid, don’t cover their expenses. The companies say they thus must ask others to pay more — and when health plans balk, patients get stuck with the tab.

“I was angry and I felt like we were being taken advantage of,” said Tabitha Cox. The family sued Air Methods in August 2017, seeking certification for a class-action lawsuit against the company on behalf of other patients in West Virginia who received similar bills.

Air Methods has defended its billing and disputed other allegations in the complaint in court filings. The case is pending.

“The fundamental problem is that the current reimbursement rates by Medicare, Medicaid and some of the private insurance companies fall well short of what it actually costs to provide this lifesaving service,” Air Methods Executive Vice President JaeLynn Williams said in an interview. She declined to comment on specific patients’ cases.