FBI seizes records from helo air ambulance operator

 - July 5, 2007, 5:36 AM

On May 23 more than 50 FBI agents and employees of the FAA raided the headquarters of Air Evac Lifeteam in West Plains, Mo. The agents sent employees home and carted away boxes of records and equipment.

Air Evac continued operations during and after the raid. In a prepared statement the company said, “Government authorities retrieved documents from the corporate offices of Air Evac Lifeteam today as part of an inquiry concerning billing and health-care compliance matters.”

The raid on Air Evac comes at a time of increasing federal scrutiny of businesses collecting Medicare reimbursements. Since March, the federal Medicare Fraud Strike Force has arrested more than 38 people. According to the Department of Justice, the indicted people and organizations have collectively billed Medicare more than $142 million.

A Department of Justice spokeswoman told AIN that she could not confirm the raid on Air Evac was part of a larger federal probe or connected to the strike force’s coordinated efforts.

Since 2005, Air Evac has been the subject of several high-profile media reports alleging billing and flight operating improprieties, charges that the company has strongly denied.

Air Evac sells annual subscriptions, primarily in rural areas, at an average price of $60. The company claims more than 500,000 subscribers, who can call Air Evac directly, as opposed to 911, for emergency medical transport. Air Evac then bills the patient’s medical insurance company or the federal Medicare program for the flight, which can cost more than $10,000.

Last year two former Air Evac pilots told St. Louis television station KSDK that they were pressured by supervisors to fly into bad weather and make flights that did not appear to be medically necessary to “keep their [mission] numbers up.” One pilot recounted a flight where the waiting patient was standing in street clothes in the landing zone, clutching a suitcase and smoking a cigarette.

Air Evac CEO Colin Collins and the company spokeswoman did not return AIN’s calls for comment regarding the raid.