(KMOV.com) -- Air Methods Corporation operates the largest air ambulance service in the country with operations in nearly every state, including Missouri and Illinois.
But, despite boasting the largest and most advanced network in the country, the company has repeatedly come under fire for the extraordinary cost of its services, which are many times higher than the cost of a ground ambulance.
Our story did not examine the role of first responders or hospital personnel in calling for a medical helicopter instead of a ground ambulance. Wednesday, we focused on the cost of Air Methods services and the approach they took with one family, the McGuires, though other families have told us about similar bad experiences with the company. It should also be noted that Air Methods, the parent corporation of Arch helicopters, frequently reduces costs billed to patients through its hardship program.
Air Methods is a remarkable success as a company, expanding quickly and operating profitably. So profitable, in fact, that the company paid shareholders a $91.6 million dividend three months ago. The stock has doubled within the last year. However, at the same time we keep hearing complaints about how tough the Air Methods can be on people who are vulnerable and never imagined they would be billed more than $20,000 for a medical chopper flight to a hospital.
Craig Yale, an Air Methods VP and spokesman for the company, has committed to working out a fair deal with the McGuires. Yale has insisted that Air Methods doesn't gouge patients. However, the cost of some flights seemed difficult to defend.
Example: Glenn Carter of Sullivan, Missouri was charged nearly $17,000 for a one mile flight from the local airport to a Sullivan hospital even though he wasn't in the chopper. The helicopter picked him up and flew him to St. Louis for another $8,000. Yale insists that the $17,000 was the overall charge of activating the service and maintaining the high standards of care provided by the system, but it didn't look right to me. And, after our story ran, Air Methods cracked a confidential settlement with Mr. Carter.
The McGuires are also fighting with their insurance company Golden Rule, which insists the McGuire's policy didn't cover the services of a medical chopper. That case is under appeal.
Meantime, Yale has committed to treating the McGuires fairly. He says the case is on hold until an agreement is reached with them.