Free-standing emergency rooms – any advantage for self-pay patients?

The past two decades have seen a proliferation of innovative health care providers that have made either made health care more accessible, more affordable, or more effective – in some cases all three! Examples of this include ‘convenient care clinics’ like the Walgreen’s Healthcare Clinic or urgent care centers like My Urgent Care, which operates to facilities near my house.

These innovative providers can be a great option for the uninsured or those with high-deductible insurance, and self-pay patients should keep them in mind as a place to get affordable, quality care with up-front pricing.

A more recent innovation in the delivery of medical care is the free-standing emergency room. National Public Radio recently reported on this phenomenon:

Patients can pay a high price for ER convenience

Medical entrepreneurs are remaking the emergency room experience. They’re pulling the emergency room out of the hospital and planting it in the strip mall. 

It’s called a “freestanding ER,” and some 400 of them have opened across the country in the past four years… 

Patients like Lisa Boncler love how accessible they are. She came to the in the affluent Houston suburb of Atascocita to get stitches on her scalp after she gashed her head on a gate handle.

“This is not the first time I’ve been in here,” says Boncler, who has a choice of six different ERs, two based at hospitals and four free-standing, like Texas Emergency Center. “It’s always fast [and] I don’t feel like I’m picking up 1,000 germs.”

So, are these freestanding emergency rooms a good deal for self-pay patients? As the title of the story indicates, in terms of price probably not, although it should be noted that emergency rooms that are attached to hospitals generally aren’t much different. And in the event you truly need to go to an emergency room, whichever one is nearest is probably the best option, whether freestanding or attached to a hospital.

The NPR story explains some of the costs:

Free-standing ERs can make a lot of money because they charge ER prices. A visit that might have cost $200 at an urgent-care center can cost four or five times as much at an ER.

Bills are just like at the hospital ER — you pay for the treatment, the doctor’s fee and something called a facility fee. That fee is for all the overhead, including expensive equipment like the CAT scanner and the lab.

Patients are sometimes shocked when they get the bill.

Steve Henderson, 41, lives in Spring, a suburb north of Houston. He woke up one morning in March with back spasms so bad he could barely walk. He dragged himself to his car and drove to what he thought was an urgent-care facility.

The sign did say emergency, but it just didn’t look like an ER…

Henderson got a shot in his back, a prescription and, later, a bill for $1,200 — $900 of that for the facility fee…

It is possible that a cash-pay patient might be able to negotiate a discount for paying cash, and that as an independent facility with less bureaucracy it might be easier to negotiate and get a favorable deal.

But it seems that as far as being a money saving option, freestanding emergency rooms aren’t much better than regular emergency rooms. Depending on the severity of any given illness, injury, or condition, an urgent-care clinic is probably a better option for the self-pay patient.

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2 Responses to Free-standing emergency rooms – any advantage for self-pay patients?

  1. MD premier says:

    Hi seandparnell,

    Great and helpful post. Thank you for sharing it also thank you for the explanation about the advantage of freestanding emergency room.


  2. kandywandy says:

    Emergency room prices or emergency room visit prices with insurance simply means been insured or covered for medicals bills that relates to the cost of emergency room visit. Know more @ emergency room prices with insurance.

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