Government-paid Medicaid flights don't include building materials, says official

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ANCHORAGE, Alaska (KTUU) — Will the state pay to bring building supplies or groceries in your baggage when the you leave home to take a Medicaid flight to see a doctor?

No, says the state official in charge of the $90 million transportation program for Medicaid recipients. The only flights that get authorized, she said, are those that are medically necessary. Baggage costs are the responsibility of the passenger or airline, not the state, she added.

Margaret Brodie, the director of the state Division of Health Care Services, answered questions after a preliminary accident report by the National Transportation Safety Board revealed that a passenger on a Medicaid charter flight was bringing home building materials, totes of groceries and propane tanks. The passenger wasn’t named and no information was provided about who paid for the freight.

The NTSB got involved after the plane crashed, killing the pilot and injuring the passenger and her 2-year-old child.

The report said the flight, chartered by the state from Regal Air, took off July 18 from Willow Lake and was bound for a lake near Skwentna, where the woman lived. But the De Havilland Beaver didn’t get far before it crashed, killing 24-year-old Colt Richter, the pilot. Witnesses reported the single-engine plane appeared to be unusually heavy and had trouble taking off, though an NTSB official said she had no evidence to suggest the plane was overloaded.

Brodie said the state approves flights for medical reasons once it determines there’s not a cheaper way to travel.

“If there is a medical necessity — a need for an appointment — and they don’t have transportation, we can provide the transportation to get them to where they need to go to receive treatment,” Brodie said. But, she added: “Medicaid does not cover the cost of luggage on a flight.”

An airline can choose to allow some baggage or cargo, like Alaska Airline’s Club 49 program, which gives Alaskans the option to check two bags for free. But if there’s an excess baggage charge, it’s up to the passenger to pay, Brodie said.

“The rules are enforced by the airlines. It’s up to them what they allow and don’t allow,” she said.

Since Gov. Bill Walker ordered the expansion of Medicaid three years ago to include most low-income Alaskans under the Affordable Care Act, the transportation program has also expanded, Brodie said. But its cost per recipient hasn’t changed, she added.

“There’s more people using it because of Medicaid expansion. It has grown because of that, but there’s not a higher use of it, “ she said. “It’s remained relatively stable.”

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