MERIDIAN, Idaho — Paul Vinci was on the brink of death when doctors at St. Luke’s Meridian Medical Center in Idaho called for an air ambulance. They needed to get him to a hospital in Salt Lake City, because his body was about to shut down.
Now, whether Vinci must pay the $56,804 bill for that air ambulance ride hinges on a case in federal court.
Vinci works in health care. He understands the system. He could walk blindfolded through the labyrinth of insurance. But he still was baffled by what happened after Life Flight Network of Idaho filed a claim for his transport to Utah.
The definition of ‘stable’
Vinci was sick with acute necrotizing pancreatitis. On a Friday in June 2017, while accompanying his wife to a car dealership, he passed out and vomited in the parking lot. He had abdominal pain.
An ambulance arrived and took him to the St. Luke’s Meridian ER. The doctors found that Vinci’s body was having a dangerous inflammatory reaction to something, and his pancreas was in worsening shape.
Vinci already had lived through sepsis and fungemia, a fungal infection of the blood. The doctors worried he was going downhill fast, again.
They consulted with University of Utah hospital physicians who had treated Vinci and recently had done a surgery on him. If he went to Utah in an air ambulance, he could be there in 90 minutes. If he went by ground, it would be five to six hours.
“When you’re laying in bed with a life-threatening illness, and your doctor says it’s an emergency,” Vinci told the Statesman, “it’s hard to go against medical advice and say, ‘I’ll have my wife drive me there.’ ”
The medical staff made sure he was stable enough to make the trip and sent him off on a Life Flight Network of Idaho airplane. Vinci had been in and out of the hospital for three months. Now he was headed back again.
Editor's note: The previous version of this story said Life Flight had filed a claim for Vinci's transport. The updated version clarifies that it was Life Flight Network of Idaho that had filed the claim. The network is not affiliated with Intermountain Life Flight of Utah.