It would be funny if it weren’t so serious: The first customer to sign up for Northwest MedStar’s new air ambulance membership service was also the first to use it.
But Bob Wisener’s wife, Denise, isn’t joking about any frequent flier plan.
The Republic, Wash., woman is just happy that when her husband, a 57-year-old log truck driver, woke up with crushing chest pain June 21, the cost of the flight to Spokane was the least of her worries.
“I told them, this time we should not be getting a bill,” recalls Denise Wisener, 50, a self-employed massage therapist.
This time, they didn’t. The cost of the 120-mile flight to Sacred Heart Medical Center was covered by the $150, three-year membership fee they paid to join MedStar in January.
That’s down from the $11,517 bill the Wiseners received after Bob’s heart attack a year earlier. Even with insurance, which paid about $8,500 of the fee, the couple had to ask for an installment plan to pay off the debt.
The bill this time would have topped $12,000.
So far, about 1,400 people have signed up for memberships in the air ambulance service, said Nicole Stewart, spokeswoman for Inland Northwest Health Services, which operates it.
MedStar memberships are available to residents in Idaho, Oregon and Montana, as well as Washington, Stewart said.
The program began this year after five years of planning and new legislation that exempted air ambulances from laws that classified them as health contractors.
Denise Wisener didn’t know that they were the first MedStar members to use the service. She hopes they’ll never have to use it again. But with Bob’s heart, she said, you never know.