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Tennessee Woman’s Estate Faces Massive Bill After Air Ambulance Ride


Debra Prichard, a retired factory worker from rural Tennessee, was known for being frugal with her finances, especially with medical expenses, according to her daughter, Alicia Wieberg. However, Prichard’s stance on medical care shifted dramatically last year when she suffered a severe stroke and multiple aneurysms, ultimately leading to her passing at the age of 70 on October 31.

The Air Ambulance Ride to the Hospital

Reportedly, one of Prichard’s journeys to Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, 79 miles away from her hometown, was via helicopter ambulance. Reflecting on the experience, Wieberg shared her shock at the exorbitant bill that followed, totaling $81,739.40, none of which was covered by insurance.

The Financial Burden Despite No Surprises Act

The family’s financial burden stems from Prichard’s decision to opt out of Medicare coverage for ambulance services, leaving her estate responsible for the full air ambulance fee; despite the No Surprises Act. The bill for the helicopter ride alone will now consume a third of her estate’s value.

What Went Wrong and What Could Have Been the Right Approach?

Prichard’s Medicare enrollment was limited to Part A, which covers inpatient care but excludes outpatient treatment and ambulance rides. Her daughter speculated that Prichard may have declined additional Medicare coverage, such as Part B, to avoid monthly premiums, which currently amount to approximately $175. Had Prichard opted for Part B coverage, Medicare would have capped the air ambulance fee at less than $10,000, with the patient’s share being under $2,000.

Experts advise that individuals eligible for Medicare should consider enrolling in Part B, except in cases where private health insurance coverage through an employer or spouse is available. Options exist for those facing challenges in covering Medicare expenses, such as coverage options and financial assistance programs.

Prichard’s case underscores the importance of understanding Medicare coverage choices and the potential financial implications of opting out of certain benefits. As healthcare costs continue to rise, informed decision-making becomes increasingly crucial for individuals and their families.

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