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tv   Nightline  ABC  March 17, 2016 12:37am-1:07am EDT

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seconds. good evening. thank you for joining us. millions of americans are rushed to the hospital every year. 400,000 of them transported by emergency helicopter. many times it's a life or death flight where every second counts. but the service often comes with a sky-high price tag. tonight abc's chief investigative correspondent brian ross examinene the big business of air ambulances. >> you're talking about very
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traumas, strokes, heart attacks. >> reporter: emergency workers call it the golden hourn the crucial 60 minutes to get medical care for a patient facing death. >> failure to get them to the care probably means they aren't going to survive. >> reporter: that urgent need to beat the golden hour clock that is spawned a nationwide fleet of helicopter ambulances, saving countless lives. but our "nightline" investigation conduct the with abc stationss across the country also found it has left manyf the very people it saved facing financial turmoil with bills as high as $40,000 or $50,000 for a short flight. >> would you call this price gouging? >> some of it is. there's no question that some of it is. >> reporter: behind those heart-warming stories of lives saved is a hard-edged air ambulance industry free to set any price it want. >> takes advantage of people at a very vulnerable moment. >> reporter: loren larson, a
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he was stunned at the cost of the quick flight for his daughter after she was injured in a serious offroad atv accident. $47,000 foror9 miles. after insurance and a failed negotiation, he still owes 6,000. >> it's definitely going to cripple us financially. >> reporter: he is not alone. we found hundreds of families. >> i'm worried to death about it. it's very stressful worrying about it. >> reporter: being sued. >> i don't have the money to give them. so my wife and my son and myself don't wind up being homeless. >> reporter: hounded by debt collectors. >> look, i see the number, i say, i know who it is, i don't want to talk. >> reporter: human bills their insurance won't cover. >> i feel i can never dig out. >> reporter: some forced into bankruptcy. one after another patients told us how they felt they had been taken for a ride in more ways than one. >> i wasn't asked if i wanted to go on the helicopter.
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that bad. >> reporter: 91-year-old warren lowe and his wife ethel were on thei way to church in virginia when an uninsured driver slammed to them. >> what's your emergency? >> car wreck on 89. several people hurt. >> reporter: lowe's leg was shattered and doctors at his local hospital wanted him sent to a trauma center 55 miles away. >> didn't nobody tell me nothing. they just took me, put me in the helicopter, and gone. >> reporter: the cost, $47,000 for a 20-minute helicopter ride. >> i couldn't believe it when we looked at it. $47,000? that's ridiculous. >> reporter: lowe's bill came from air methods, the biggest of the for-profit helicopter ambulance companies with more than 370 helicopters operating in 48 states. the publicly traded air methods posted profits last year of more than $100 million. even as insurance companies
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its ceo, aaron todd, earned almost $500 million last year. >> aircraft hike this serves about a 150-mile radius. >> reporter: but he sent someone else to answer our questions at one of their bases in rural illinois. >> we serve 82 million rural americans across the country who would not have access to trauma care within the critical hour, what's called the golden hour. >> reporter: air methods vice president paul webster said thehe company is willing to lower its bill for those who can prove financial hardship. he says the real problem that is many insurance companies and medicare and medicaid won't cover the full cost of helicopter flights. >> if everybody paid their fair share, you know what the charge for this service would be? $12,000. that's the reality. >> you're shifting the cost to people w have insurance, and when their insurance doesn't pay, you go after them in court? >> the other choice is -- >> you put them into bankruptcy? >> the other choice is this service and this access goes away. >> reporter: no, it's not, say
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air ambulance service, set up by ve hospitals in the dallas area. care flight. >> so we're going to methodist, this brown building here -- >> repepter: the company with its own fleet of state-of-the-art aircraft -- >> this is an $8 million aircraft. >> rorter: charges substantially less and does not use debt collectors to go after s patients. >> how could you be absolutely committed to saving that person's life and then turn around and sue them? because they can't pay a bill? >> the ceo of care flight, jim schwartz, says air methods has developed a reputation as an aggressive bottom-line company trying to please its wall street investors. >> no one should be surprised a for-profit company acts like a for-profit company. you raise the price as high as you can, as fast as you can. and you try to collect as much as you can and use whatever tactics you have to. >> repororr: jean medina got a $35,000 bill from air methods after her teenage daughter,
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developed complications from a tonsillectomy. >> the surgery itself was $16,000. the h@licopter was $35,000. it seems a crazy amount of money. >> reporter: after insurance and a protracted back and forth, she still owes $17,000. and medina questions whether her daughter's 37-mile medevac trip was necessary. it took almost an hour for the helicopter just to arrive and load, and she was able to drive the distance in almost the same amount of time. >> i left a few minutesefore they took off and ended up arriving at the hospital about five minutes after they did. >> reporter: air methods said its flight crews provide medical care that a ground ambulance could not. >> the same thing could not have been accomplished on the ground. because of the level of care that she receivesinside the helicopter. >> reporter: according to the flight logs for medina's daughter, no extraordinary treatments were necessary. >> if the patient really isn't time sensitive, we can take them by ground and we're a nonprofit, therefore we're nogoing to try to figure out the most expensive way to do it.
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call in a helicopter ambulance is made by attending doctors. but the families,ike the larsons of kentucky, are the ones on the hook for the cost. warren larson says he was being treated himself, given morphine, when he signed this airethods consent form for his daughter's medevac trip which in small print made him personally and fully responsnsle for the bill. >> they said, don't worry about it, it's just a standard form, just give us permission to ansport your daughter. >> reporter: nowhere on the standard form does it inform the patient or guardian of the expected cost. >> why don't you put the price here? >> i can get back with you on that. >> you're the vice president in charge of this. this is your standard form. why don't you put the price here so people know what they're signing on for? can ask. >> you don't know the answer? >> no, i don't. >> never been raised before? >> no, it has not. >> reporter:r:tate insurance regulators say they have been unable to rein in the prices or
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helicopter ambulance services because of a loophole in the federal law. al redner is the insurance commissioner in mamaland. >> when the federal government deregulated the airlines industry, these commercial helicopter companies were part of that. >> as if they're major air carriers? >> that's right. >> you can't regulate them because of faa rules? >> that's right. >> they can get away with these charges, charge whatever they want? >> they can, they can. >> reporter: of course, many of the air methods customers praise the service provided by the company, including kim downs whose daughter suffered life-threatening injuries in an auto accident in illinois. >> but i was told they inititily thought she was dead. yeah. that it was extreme. >> reporter: and r rently showed up to thank the flight crew. >> she wouldn't be here today if it wasn't for them. they're angel in the sky. truly. >> rorter: the bill was $55,000.
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and she never had to face the air methods tactics that so many others say they have had to suffer through. >> they're asking for help. they're not asking for threatening their life savings or anything else. th're not asking for a lawsuit. they're asking you to help save their life. >> reporter: for "nightline," this is brian ross, abc news, new york. >> join the conversation on our "nightline" facebook page. next, it's a showdown in the most epic superhero battle of all-time. ben affleck's batman vsus henry cavill's superman. we're behind the scenes with the superstatacast.il liqui-gels, you'll ask what body aches? what knee pain? what sore elbow? what joint pain? advil liqui-gels are so fast, they make pain a distant memory nothing works faster stro.ger or longer than advil liqui-gels
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they are the good guys of the comic book world. for2the first time ever, clark kent and bruce wayne are s%iting up for the big screen together, facing on of in an epic battle that might become an epic partnership. chris connelly goes behind the scenes with ben affleck and henry cavill in "batman vs. superman: dawn the justice." >> reporter: he may be the new man in the bat suit. with major bat boots to fill. ben affleck says he's long been drawn to the departments of the dark knight. >> batman's the most interesting superhero in a way becausese he's the most human. he's the most like us. he can beind of broken. which is really fascinating to be coupled with all this herc stuff. >> reporter: the movie pits the two mightiest icons of thedc comics universe against each
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>> stay down! if i wanted it you'd be dead already! >> reporter: "batman vs. superman" is the -- wait, what? of movie titles. >> it's counter intuitive. you think, a, they're both good guys. and b, how couldld batman fight superman since superman is an aliennnd way stronger and invulnerable? >> if you'd ra have a head to head, batman vs. superman punchup, we know who wins. >> reporter: "batman vs. superman" uses multiple story strains jesse isenberg's string-pullingpillian to put the do-gooders at odds. starting with a reprise of the end of "man of steel" and its destruction of the metropolis. >> you do have to realize that there is collateral damage which happens and someone's going to get blamed. that someone happened to be superman.
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see that, yeah, there's consequence. it would be amazing if bruce wayne witnessed that. >> he has the power to wipe o the entire human race. if we believe there's even a 1% chance he's an enemy we have to take it as absolute certainty and we have to destroy him. >> reporter: he takes on 32-year-old henry cavill's superman clark kent. affleck at 43 is the oldest ever to be past at bruce wayne. >> i wanted a batman that had been batman for 20 years. he had the experiences that we know sort of collectively in pop culture. i felt like that character had a chance against superman. because he could outthink him. >> i wanted to be this one of these movies that was ballsy and had something t t say. i wanted to do a movie my kids would think it's cool. my son thinks it's cool. >> reporter: samuel, his
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the actor who excelled in the three batman epics who elevated the genre and grossed more than $1 billion tom stick. >> i was in literally a costume shop. not only that but my son, really into bataan, wanted a batman costume. i was in the batman aisle. i hear, ben, is that you? i turn around and that's my bad immersepersonation of christian bale's voice, who i didn't even realize was british, such a good actor, i'm like, wait a minute. you don't talk like that. it's christian. and he's incrediblyy sweet, really cool. and he's talking to me about going off and doing the movie. he's like, listen, make sure they put a zipper in that suit, i couldn't take a piss for three movies.
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>> reporter: womama you're finally seeing the real one. >> how about when kidid see you? what's it like when a child comes across and recognizes kind of who you are? what's that like to be on the other earned of? >> that is probably the scariest part of this. because when a child sees you as superman, there is a lot of respsibility there not to mess up. you're often not expecting it. it's the last minute a parent thrusts their child in fnt of you and you have to say just the right things. you never know what kids are going to ask, those kids are honest. >> reporter: audiences expected
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opening will be honest as well. with snyder looking to show "batman vs. superman" is a worthyuccess tore nolan's films. and affleck eager to provide more than just moral support as his direcr turns 50. >> are you going to do anything special for him in honor? >> i'm going to give him a lap dance, yeah. it's the only gift i can be sure he won't give back. and he can't regift. >> r rorter: for "nightline" i'm chris connelly in los angeles. next, meet the man behind some of the most successful women on the court. [engine revving] powerful.
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and finally tonight, they say practice makes perfect. spending countless hours on the court with serena williams, this once small-time tennis coach is now volleying withh a new superstar. he's abc's nick watt. >> reporter: behind this great woman's success, serena williams, there was a man. a shirtless man. her hitting partner of eight years. >> whatever i want, whatever i feel like, i have to put my own needs back 24/7. just do whatever is best for her. >> reporter: sascha was a small-time tennis coach when he got the call. >> saturday night, 3:00 a.m. phone call out of nowhere. i even said no at first. just because it was a sunday morning, i didn't want to get up in four hours. >> reporter: he travels over 300
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>> i hen't been in my home since october. i guess the cleing lady moved in, i don't know. >> reporter: this week it's the bnp open in the california desert where last year he switched courseswitch ed horses, went to work with victoria. >> does victoria say, put your shirt on you're drawing a crowd? >> she did once. it wasn't the crowd, iactctlly put lotion on because i didn't want to get burned and she said i was tooshiny. >> reporter: whatever is best for her. he's like the husband my wife wishes i could be. i'm nick watt for "nightline" in indian wells, california. >> there is an old african proverb that may help expla the bond between player and coach. if you want to go fast, go alone. if you want to go far, go together. thank you for watching abc news. tune into "good morning america" tomorrow.
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good night, america. >> begin with a developing store emergency through the ever everglades a jet going down. two were on board that aircraft. >> crews bringing them to safety a task made difficult by smoke and flames. angela is working the storyry for us live with more. andrew? >> reporter: >> you know the passengers telling me thiss was a tricky, dangerous operation trying to
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they were rescued but crews responded to two situations gogog on in the same area and same time and they saved the couple. fire is still burning. >> fire could be seen east u.s. 27. crews unsure how it started no lightning or storm clouds to think of. forrest officials moved in and so did deputies, agencies responding to the same areaor different calls. >> there was a jet. it was very low. 200 feet to the west. >> he was fishing at the time when he saw what the faa identified a jet similar to this one f flying low. authorities say it landed on a levy way out there around the same time as the fire. it is two miles away from him. >> making a sound like a siren from a police vehicle. i was wondering, are they in trouble or showing off?
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of noise. >> reporter: pilot and passengers were rescued and uninjured talking with officers still in their jump suits. officials are working to determine if the emergency landing and the fire are connected in any way. >> reporter: just to be clear this is not just some plane that land third degree is a jet from what i saw used as a military fight are jejet trainer. it is popular for private pilots. we are told the pilot had engine trouble. now reporting live, i'm andrew. local 10. >> reporter: thank you. a police officer accused of crossing the line by slapping a hopeless man is not guilty of battery charges. we have the story for us tonight. >> reporter: on that the bus teteinal where it went down a bistander catch its on cell phone video.

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