Bill calls for insurers to cover air ambulance rides

  • The Life Flight Hawaii EC135 Helicopter lands at the Kona Community Hospital. File

HONOLULU — A proposed law in the state Legislature would require insurance companies to cover air ambulance rides to the mainland for critical procedures not offered in Hawaii.

The measure would take the burden off families that are put in tough situations due to the cost of air ambulance rides, KHON-TV reported Tuesday.

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Tammy Tam, wife of the late former Deputy Attorney General Rodney Tam, said she experienced firsthand how current policies complicate care.

Tam said that when her husband fell ill, doctors told them he needed a lung transplant, which couldn’t be done in Hawaii. Her insurance covered the transplant, but she had to pay out of pocket for the flight to California on a specialized plane.

“Because it is not a provided benefit by the insurance company, the families have to come up with the cash 100 percent paid in full before they will even start to make any arrangements to bring the (medical) teams over,” Tam said.

Such a flight costs anywhere from $80,000 to $130,000.

“The time it took to coordinate it all and to recognize that this is what he needed just caused other things to fail,” Tam said. “So he ended up having kidney, liver, and lung failure.”

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Her husband died July 4. He never got the lung transplant he desperately needed.

“The burden on the families that are already extremely distressed, I don’t even know how to explain the relief that it would have been if the cost of transportation was not an issue,” Tam said.