Gordon signs bill aiming to allow Wyoming air ambulance membership services to resume - Casper, WY Oil City News
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Gordon signs bill aiming to allow Wyoming air ambulance membership services to resume

Crews gather around the Life Flight helicopter during survival training, in April 2018, on Casper Mountain. (Dan Cepeda, Oil City, File)

CASPER, Wyo. — Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon signed House Bill 07 into law on Tuesday, legislation which aims to allow air ambulance membership services to resume in Wyoming.

The legislation seeks to reverse aspects of a bill they passed in 2019 which classified air ambulance membership subscription plans as disability insurance. That classification required air ambulance service providers to register with the Wyoming Department of Insurance in order to operate in the state, as required of insurance providers under Wyoming Statue 26-3-101.

House Bill 07 would allow air ambulance membership services to operate in Wyoming without being considered as a type of insurance but would require air ambulance membership organizations to make it clear in advertising and marketing materials that they are offering a membership service and not insurance.

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When House Bill 07 was being debated in the Senate, Sen. Cale Case (Fremont County) said that before that 2019 legislation took effect, there were more companies selling air ambulance service memberships which he said were “very important to folks in central Wyoming.”

Case said that after the law took effect which required air ambulance service providers to register as insurance carriers, only one company did so and the others stopped selling memberships in Wyoming.

After that happened, he was contacted by a number of constituents who were worried about losing their memberships. Case said that while there has been some concern about the concept of air ambulance memberships being a ruse to get around being regulated as an insurance provider, the constituents who contacted were well aware of what they were purchasing from the air ambulance service companies.

“The Town of Dubois, a benefactor, bought it for the entire town,” Case said.

He said that senators from larger communities might not understand how important the service the air ambulance companies used to provide was to people in the Wind River and Bighorn Basins.

“Everybody that gets a toenail fracture has to be flown out,” Case said. “They are afraid.”

House Bill 07 faced significant opposition in the Senate over concern that it could put Wyoming at odds with federal law and result in court challenges the state was likely to lose.

Sen. Drew Perkins (Natrona) noted that the limits on the state’s ability to regulate air ambulance is due to the Airline Deregulation Act and air ambulances status as federally licensed air carriers.

The United States Public Interest Research Group reported on March 24 that: “This month, the 8th Circuit Court of Appeals struck down a 2017 North Dakota law  that had banned ‘air ambulance memberships,’ bringing an end to a years-long fight between air ambulance companies and the state.”

Case asked that the Senate pass the bill on third reading in order to send it to a Joint Conference Committee so that Wyoming representatives and senators could work the bill further and address some of the concerns senators had with provisions of the bill.

After a Joint Conference Committee reworked the bill, the House of Representatives agreed to adopt the bill with the committee’s changes on a vote of 53-3 on March 30. That vote was as follows:

  • Ayes: ANDREW, BANKS, BEAR, BROWN, BURKHART, BURT, CLAUSEN, CLIFFORD, CONNOLLY, CRAGO, DUNCAN, EKLUND, EYRE, FLITNER, FORTNER, GREEAR, HALLINAN, HEINER, HENDERSON, HUNT, JENNINGS, KINNER, BARLOW, KNAPP, LARSEN, L, LAURSEN, D, MACGUIRE, MARTINEZ, NEIMAN, NEWSOME, NICHOLAS, OAKLEY, OBERMUELLER, O’HEARN, OLSEN, OTTMAN, PAXTON, PROVENZA, ROSCOE, SCHWARTZ, SHERWOOD, SIMPSON, SOMMERS, STITH, SWEENEY, WALTERS, WESTERN, WHARFF, WILLIAMS, WILSON, WINTER, YIN, ZWONITZER
  • Nays: BAKER, GRAY, STYVAR
  • Excused: BLACKBURN, HAROLDSON, HARSHMAN, WASHUT

The Senate also agreed to pass the bill with the Joint Conference Committee changes on a vote of 20-9 on April 1:

  • Ayes: BALDWIN, BITEMAN, BOUCHARD, CASE, COOPER, DOCKSTADER, DRISKILL, FRENCH, GIERAU, JAMES, KOST, LANDEN, MCKEOWN, NETHERCOTT, PAPPAS, PERKINS, ROTHFUSS, SALAZAR, SCHULER, STEINMETZ
  • Nays: ANDERSON, BONER, FURPHY, HICKS, HUTCHINGS, KINSKEY, KOLB, SCOTT, WASSERBURGER