JACKSONVILLE, Fla. -- Bernard Vargas Vila remembers September 5, 2011 like it was yesterday.
"I started having real chest pains," he said, "I'm out here in the driveway and I just crawled in calling for my wife cause I felt I was having a heart attack."
He was knocking on heaven's door and he knew it.
"I could hardly move or talk," said Vila.
Vila was transported by ambulance from his Mandarin home to Baptist South and flown by air ambulance from Baptist South to Baptist Downtown.
They found a blockage in one of his arteries and he was treated and released. A few weeks later, he received the bill for his air ambulance ride; the seven nautical-mile trip cost him $18,846.33.
"We couldn't believe the price," said Vila.
Vargas Vila said after he survived the heart stopping bill, he contacted his insurance company and his insurance only paid $4,150.22; the rest was on him.
"If I had I been told the amount, I would have requested to go by ground ambulance," said Vila.
Since the bill, Vila has lost his job and the ability to pay. He calls the $14,696 balance unconscionable.
"I've paid all of the other doctor bills except this one," he said.
For the past year, he's been disputing the charges, but the billing company has refused to budge and his insurance company does not have a contract with the air ambulance for balanced billing.
"I'm not paying them a penny until we can work this out," he said.
Vila said families should be notified of the cost before they are billed.
"I like to pay what I owe but this is just a rip off. They won't talk to me or lower the price either," said Vila.
This is not a hospital problem, nor an insurance issue. The blame seems to fall on the system.
Florida Blue spokeperson John Herbkersman said:
"Florida Blue is very concerned for the health and welfare of its members. When a member has a medically necessary air ambulance service, Florida Blue pays the amount due under a member's policy. Unfortunately, many flight-based ambulance carriers do not contract with health insurance companies. Without a contract, these ambulance carriers can directly bill members for the balance not paid."
So far, no word from the air ambulance company, which means Vila is stuck with the bill.
First Coast News