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Southern Indiana couple gets $46,000 bill after snake bite

Patients should no longer get surprise medical bills
Published: Dec. 29, 2021 at 2:36 PM EST
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LOUISVILLE, Ky. (WAVE) -A hiking trip turned into a nightmare for one Southern Indiana couple celebrating their wedding anniversary.

A venomous snakebite led to a helicopter flight to the hospital. When the couple returned home, they were stunned to learn the flight wasn’t going to be covered.

The couple has insurance, and the helicopter company is in network, but the pair had been stuck with a $46,000 surprise bill.

“We’ve been out of the country to hike, Costa Rica, Maui,” Jennifer Hay said.

Pictures of hiking trips Hay has taken with her husband Randy line their home’s walls.

“We’ve been together since 2003, so we’ve done a ton of hiking over the years,” said Hay.

For their thirteenth anniversary, they decided to hike in the Shawnee National Forest in Southern Illinois.

“We love to hike, we’ve been all over, and that was one place, kind of local that we really hadn’t been before,” said Hay.

Wearing her favorite hiking sandals, they decided to end their first day with a short sunset hike. They snapped a photo, and with the sun setting, they started hiking back to the truck.

“Just trekking along having a good time and all of the sudden I just felt this sharp pain, I didn’t really know what had happened. I thought, I had got stung, so I took a few more steps and I knew it was more than a sting,” Hay said.

“I’m on the Indian {Kitchen} trailhead and my wife’s been bit by a snake,” Randy Hay said to the 911 operator.

“I turned around and it was probably less than five feet from me, I saw it all coiled up, and I knew right away it was a Copperhead,” Jennifer Hay said.

“What you need to do right now is keep her as calm as possible,” the 911 dispatcher told Randy.

The snake bit Jennifer’s ankle. One fang pierced her skin and the pain began shooting up her leg.

“Kind of felt like I got dipped in acid, it was your skin, it was your muscle, everything was on fire,” Hay said.

Paramedics at the trailhead told Jennifer they needed to get her to the hospital in Paducah in case she needed antivenom. It was a 45 minute ambulance ride away, so they called a helicopter.

“Is that super necessary,” asked Jennifer, “And [the paramedic] looks at me like I’m kind of crazy, and he goes, yeah, do you like your foot?”

Off she flew to get treated. UofL Health Assistant Professor Matt Eisenstat said the paramedics made the right call.

“Even though Copperheads are considered somewhat less venomous than other local venomous snakes in Kentucky, the possibility of a life or limb threatening reaction is still there,” said Eisenstat.

He said snakebite victims need to get help quickly.

“Minutes and hours are of utmost importance when you’re talking about venomous snakes,” said Eisenstat.

Hay ultimately didn’t need the antivenom, but as she recovered at home with a very swollen leg, she was anxious. She wasn’t sure what her insurance was going to do, and then she got a notification.

“Finally saw on my app it had been denied, and it was denied because of pre-authorization,” said Hay.

She said she just sat there crying, not knowing how she would pay $46,000.

“$46,000 bill for something that you needed that insurance should cover, it’s heartbreaking,” said Hay.

It’s an issue that has plagued patients for years. WAVE 3 Troubleshooters last covered air ambulance bills in 2016.

“Looking for $21,000 from a guy in Shepherdsville, $27,000 from a couple in Bardstown, $37,000 from an E-town man,” said Troubleshooter Eric Flack.

The Government Accountability Office found two thirds of air ambulance flights were for patients considered out of network in 2012 and 2017. Those flights resulted in bills costing tens of thousands of dollars to those patients. Congress passed a law to stop surprise medical bills as part of a COVID relief measure last year.

“Unfortunately it takes this long to get the kind of regulatory structure in place and that’s unfortunate because of how long it took to get the bill passed,” said Kentucky’s second district Congressman Brett Guthrie (R).

He worked on the No Surprises Act, which will take effect New Years Day and is supposed to stop these kinds of surprise bills being sent to patients.

“After January {patients} will only receive a bill for their in network deductible,” said Guthrie.

He explained insurance companies and providers will then negotiate the rest of the bill themselves. Additionally, he said Congress may still need to enact more reforms.

“Medicine is one of the few places, maybe college tuition, has gotten to the point where you have an incredibly high list price,” said Guthrie.

The law takes effect too late to help Hay, but after calling the helicopter company and her insurance company, WAVE got some some good news. It turns out, her flight was denied because of a paperwork problem. It’s now being covered.

“That’s why we pay those big premiums, it’s to be covered when we’re in an accident, and not have to fight with an insurance company over it,” said Hay.

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