|Coming from a long and sometimes contentious debate over the income tax and budget bills Wednesday night, members of the Senate Judiciary committee heard arguments from two medical helicopter providers over whether membership programs are considered insurance products in West Virginia.
At the heart of HB2776 , which creates the Air Ambulance Patient Protection Act, is to provide for certain consumer protections for patients. This legislation declares that any entity, whether directly or indirectly, who solicits air ambulance membership subscriptions, accepts membership applications, or charges membership fees, is an insurer and shall be licensed and regulated by the Offices of the Insurance Commissioner.
AirEvac is a provider operating in West Virginia that offers subscriptions or memberships that charge members roughly $85 a year to transport patients to medical facilities by air – whether in state or out of state – when needed. Joe Ward, of Frost Brown Todd, represents AirEvac. He shared with the committee that AirEvac is the only company offering the membership programs in the state. He notes there is currently litigation in the Federal District Court over the question of whether these products are insurance products. Under questioning by Sen. Smith, Mr. Ward suggests that this legislation is an attempt to force AriEvac out of the market.
HealthNet Aeromedical Services, a West Virginia-based not-for-profit network of medical aircraft spoke in favor of the Air Ambulance Patient Protection Act because of consumer protection concerns.
Jason Pitzatella, represents HealthNet. He tries to simplify the issues by noting that HealthNet does not sell subscriptions because its services are considered in network by health insurance carriers. HealthNet does not bill patients for the balance of the cost of the service, unlike AirEvac, which does. However, AirEvac will not be permitted to do soon as a result of the federal No Surprise Billing Act. He argues that despite the fact that a person purchases a membership there is no guarantee that the air ambulance service for which the person has a membership will be called when an air ambulance is needed.
A representative Air Methods, one of the nation’s largest providers of medical air transport in the U.S also spoke in favor of the bill. She explained that air ambulance membership products exist elsewhere and that they are regulated as insurance.
Senators questioned by HealthNet is supporting the legislation when it does not appear to have stake in the issue, but in the end adopted the strike and insert amendment and ultimately the bill. The bill goes to the Senate.