Navigating Medicare: One Family’s $81,000 Ambulance Bill

March 5, 2024

Voices for Affordable Health often shares stories from people who skip prescriptions or doctor’s visits because of concerns about cost. Now, we’ve learned of one woman who opted for Medicare Part A – which is free – and now, her family is on the hook for an exorbitant medical bill of $81,000 for an air ambulance ride, according to KHN.

According to her family, Debra Prichard was a retired factory worker who was cautious with her spending and rarely went to the doctor. Last year, she suffered a stroke and was rushed to the hospital by an air ambulance. She later died.

Air ambulance trips can be covered by Medicare Part B, but that coverage costs an additional $175 a month – a cost Debra’s family says she opted not to pay. A health economist told KHN that the estimated maximum charge Medicare would have allowed with Part B coverage would be about $10,000. Instead, Debra’s estate is now expected to pay $81,739.40.

Debra’s family has contacted the ambulance provider, Global Medical Response, asking for a reduction in the bill. So has the family’s lawyer. But they say they haven’t heard back, and the company recently filed a legal claim against Debra’s estate for the full amount.

Debra’s daughter, Alicia Weiberg, questions why Medicare is split into two parts, telling KHN, “Anybody past the age of 70 is likely going to need both. And so why make it a decision of what you can afford or not afford, or what you think you’re going to use or not use?”

According to the director of the Federal Center for Medicare, there are resources available to those navigating Medicare coverage choices to help find payment options to cover the costs. There’s also a website that offers free counseling to people in every state to help with options.

Have you or a family member received a big – and unexpected – medical bill? Share your story with us here.