Batteries Not Included

Those things that go bump in the night. It simply does not happen very often, or it happens to someone who’s credibility isn’t sufficient for you to believe their story until it happens to you. Recently, the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel has been reporting about the fees “Flight for Life” has been charging to transport severely ill or injured people to the hospital by helicopter, and now ambulance. The paper reports that Flight for Life is currently charging $23,000.00 for a fifty-mile transport, for example, a flight from somewhere like Fort Atkinson to Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee. And there’s an additional $150.00 per mile charge, as well. Most people don’t think about that because they live on the assumption that insurance will pay the tab, and most people have some form of insurance.

Well, that’s not true. Insurers left and right are not picking up that bill, or if they are, then they are paying just a small fraction of it with the remainder of the money to be paid by the person who was transported. Some might say that this is only fair, as it is very expensive to fly helicopters or even drive ambulances staffed with trained medical personnel at any or all hours.  The main problem is that (many times along with bankruptcy or the loss of all assets) not only does the patient being transported not have a clue about the expenses that are about to be charged, but that patient has no say in whether the services should be called and applied! The police, or fire department involved, call Flight for Life and that’s it. The police or fire department making that decision is not liable for a dime.   The reason Froedtert Hospital in Milwaukee is listed in this article is that they, with a few partners, own Flight for Life. That a medical operation with such a great reputation will also not divulge its financial information about how successful people have been at paying such out-sized bills, especially when the patients are often in pretty long-term shattered condition after recovery.

The great unknown of medical billing and emergency service billing continues on into other emergency services, such as fire department response. The Lake Geneva Fire Department list of charges for responding to fire and emergency conditions is as follows:

CITY OF LAKE GENEVA FIRE DEPARTMENT FEES (as published by the City of Lake Geneva)

Fees for the response of apparatus and personnel:

Chief, Deputy Chief or Assistant Chief                                                                                 $21.00 per hr.

Fire and EMS Personnel                                                                                                            $21.00 per hr.

Engine/Squad                                                                                                                           $550.00 per hr.

Truck/Aerial Apparatus)                                                                                                        $875.00 per hr.

Air Boat                                                                                                                                      $300.00 per hr.

Technical Rescue and Utility                                                                                                 $500.00 per hr.

Chief, Deputy Chief, Asst. Chief or Command Vehicle                                                                                                                                                                                             $50.00 per hr.

Utility                                                                                                                                             $50.00 per hr.

EMS First Responder resident fee                                                                                     $100.00 per call

EMS First Responder non-resident fee                                                                            $150.00 per call

Ambulance Transport Life Support Rate                                                                         $750.00

Ambulance Transport Life Support Rate (ALS2)                                                           $850.00

Ambulance Transport Life Support Rate (Intercept)                                                   $918.89

Ambulance Transport Life Support Rate (Intercept ALS2)                                        $1010.47

Equal Level Mutual Aid                                                                                                      $300.00

Basic Life Support Base Rate                                                                                            $650.00


Lake Geneva has billed privately for public entity service, after taxation charges, for emergency fire and paramedic services since 2001, and this list came directly from the September 2015 schedule.

One of the real problems that come with these high prices, directly chargeable to the people who get the services is that the charges are assigned when the person getting the services did not call for or approve them. Whether Froedtert’s Flight for Life services or those now being applied by fire and other emergency services are legally the duty of the person receiving them (without request) might be a matter that could possibly one day reach the U.S. Supreme Court. Even if it is determined to be legal to charge these rates to badly damaged citizens, does that make it right?

How is the accounting for such charges being adjudicated, reported and audited? Should these rates be reviewed and/or adjusted?

~ James Strauss

Sign up for Updates