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Beginning September 1, 2021, Travis County STAR Flight and similar publicly-funded air ambulance programs in Texas will be able to forego the practice of balance billing and accept a health benefit plan payment toward a claim as payment in full.

"Balance billing" refers to a practice in which a medical provider first bills the patient's insurer and when the fee is not paid in full by the insurer, bills the patient for the balance.

Previous state law required Travis County to recoup any and all money owed to it after providing STAR Flight services. As a result, the County had been required to balance bill and use third-party debt collection for unpaid bills. With SB790 in effect, however, the County can stop balance billing for STAR Flight’s highly specialized emergency response services.

“When we respond, it usually means these are the most ill, most injured patients,” said Erick Ullman, Chief Clinical Supervisor at Travis County STAR Flight. “The patients go through something that’s totally unexpected, something they know will change their lives. With SB 790, it makes us feel great as critical care providers knowing the patients are not going to be surprised by a bill later on.”

SB 790 was a priority of the Travis County Commissioners Court’s legislative agenda during the 87th regular session and was passed by Texas State Senator Judith Zaffirini, along with co-author Texas State Senator Kelly Hancock. The legislation was sponsored and passed in the Texas House of Representatives by Texas State Representative Donna Howard and signed by Governor Greg Abbott on June 14, 2021.

“Many STAR Flight patients face difficult roads to recovery,” Travis County Commissioner Brigid Shea who sits on the legislative subcommittee said. “The Commissioners Court asked for this change in state law so that our residents can focus on their recovery without having any added fear or stress of trying to figure out how to pay their bills.”

Air ambulance missions and hospital-to-hospital transfers comprise over 90% of STAR Flight’s responses.

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STAR Flight is the only 24/7 aerial emergency medical service in Texas that performs highly specialized emergency response services, including emergency medical transport, still and swift water rescue, search and rescue, high angle rescue, fire suppression/aerial reconnaissance, and law safety assistance. STAR Flight maintains and operates three AirBus EC 145 helicopters and one UH-1H Huey helicopter.

Learn more about STAR Flight.

TAX RATE: TRAVIS COUNTY ADOPTED A TAX RATE THAT WILL RAISE MORE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS THAN LAST YEAR'S TAX RATE. THE TAX RATE WILL EFFECTIVELY BE RAISED BY 3.6 PERCENT AND WILL RAISE TAXES FOR MAINTENANCE AND OPERATIONS ON A $100,000 HOME BY APPROXIMATELY $11.00.

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