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Family Faces $97,000 Bill Including Air Ambulance Charges


In a harrowing turn of events, Sara England’s Halloween preparations took an unexpected detour when she noticed her baby, 3-month-old Amari Vaca, wasn’t doing well. What followed was a frantic rush to seek medical attention, leading to an eye-opening encounter with the complexities of medical billing and insurance coverage.

Urgent Medical Crisis Unfolds

Amidst preparations for Halloween costumes, Sara England noticed signs of distress in her infant son, Amari Vaca, who had undergone open-heart surgery just two months prior. Acting swiftly, she sought guidance from his cardiologist, who advised immediate medical evaluation. With her three older children tended to by their grandparents for trick-or-treating, England rushed Amari to the local emergency room at Natividad Medical Center in Salinas, California.

Struggle with Insurance Coverage for the Air Ambulance Ride

Despite the urgency of Amari’s condition, the family encountered a daunting obstacle after his three-week hospital stay: a staggering medical bill totaling $97,000. Shockingly, their insurance provider, Cigna, refused coverage for the air-ambulance ride crucial to Amari’s care, citing it as medically unnecessary. Despite the family’s expectations of protection under the No Surprises Act, which was enacted in 2022 to prevent such balance billing scenarios, they found themselves at the mercy of insurance definitions and loopholes.

Implications of Denied Coverage

The denial of coverage by Cigna sheds light on ongoing challenges within the healthcare system, where insurers wield significant power in determining the necessity of medical interventions. The case of Amari Vaca underscores the need for greater clarity and accountability in insurance coverage decisions, especially for critical medical emergencies.

Concerns Over Balance Billing Practice

The prevalence of balance billing practices, despite the existence of protective legislation like the No Surprises Act, raises concerns about the vulnerability of patients and families facing unexpected medical crises. The National Association of Emergency Medical Services Physicians has highlighted a concerning trend of claim denials based on a perceived lack of medical necessity, particularly for air-ambulance transports.

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