Do Freestanding Emergency Centers Increase the Cost of Healthcare?
Emergency rooms are meant to cater for medical emergencies that could have serious or even fatal outcomes if not treated with urgency. Freestanding ERs help patients access this emergency care more readily. The freestanding ERs are not limited to treating emergencies as they can also diagnose other non-critical illnesses as well. However, billing differs greatly between freestanding emergency centers and urgent care centers. It is this difference in cost that has led people to accuse freestanding emergency centers of increasing the cost of healthcare. Bellaire ER looks at this matter more closely.
Taking a visit to a freestanding emergency center will cost you more than if you had gone to an urgent care center or your primary care practitioner. Some people who visit freestanding emergency centers for minor treatments that would have been conducted elsewhere complain about the huge cost of care. However, there is a reason why freestanding emergency facilities charge such high prices.
Freestanding ERs are open 24/7 to cater for emergencies whenever they arise. The facilities are also equipped with more expert human resources and better diagnostic equipment such as high-quality laboratories and advanced imaging machines. Running all these facilities requires more money, and thus the freestanding ERs include a facility fee on top of the regular medical bill.
However, it is not to say that the freestanding ERs charge exorbitant prices that are unheard of. In fact, these ERs have similar pricing to the hospital attached ERs. The primary purpose of freestanding ERs is convenience. These ERs are meant to be located in areas that cannot afford to have a full hospital on site. Thus, the people in these places can access emergency healthcare readily.
Knowing all this, it would seem that people should only visit the freestanding ERs when they absolutely have to. However, this is not always the case. Some people visit freestanding ERs thinking that they are urgent care centers. To avoid this problem, the freestanding ERs are required by law to be labeled accordingly and bear the word “emergency” in their signage. The ER nurses should also inform you of the difference between a freestanding medical facility and other primary care practitioners or urgent centers. At times, the freestanding ER might refer you to an urgent care center if your case is not an emergency.
Other people opt for the freestanding ERs due to the quality of care. Freestanding ERs offer quality care to their patients and often don’t have long waiting lines such as those found in hospital ERs. This preference further escalates the cost of healthcare.
Others have accused the freestanding ERs of attaining huge profits from their pricing systems. These ERs charge the same as the hospital based ERs but have lower overhead costs. This often translates to huge profits.
Although freestanding ERs are meant to provide emergency to mostly poor neighborhoods that do not have a hospital in their vicinity, a study has shown that most of these facilities are located in affluent districts. These are the regions with wealthy individuals who have private insurance and can afford to pay the high medical costs.
Part of the reason for this location is that the freestanding ERs do not accept Medicaid and Medicare due to legal restrictions. The for-profit emergency centers might, therefore, end up serving many patients who cannot pay since they do not accept the patient’s form of insurance. Many of the freestanding ERs are therefore located in the affluent districts to avoid this dilemma.
Medical analysts admit that this setup also creates problems in the healthcare system. The freestanding ERs get to serve the high paying clients while the hospital-based ERs are left with the low-paying and uninsured clients. This alters the balance in the healthcare continuum. As the freestanding ERs look to minimize the number of Medicare and Medicaid patients, they also shift the balance of uninsured patients to the hospital-based ERs.
Arguments from both sides of the debate have merit. The freestanding ERs have to charge high fees to maintain the overhead costs of running all the equipment and the many human resources. On the other hand, the high fees for minor cases appear unjustified and lead to high healthcare costs. Some analysts have suggested various solutions to this problem.
A new pricing model
Most of the fees charged to patients in ERs, whether freestanding or hospital based, are facility and professional fees. The freestanding ERs can introduce a new pricing model where they charge different prices based on the level of treatment. People who come in with minor non-emergency cases such as sore throats can be excluded from paying facility fees.
Such a pricing model will lower the cost of seeking treatment at a freestanding ER, although the cost will still be higher than what a primary care practitioner charges. This will encourage people to visit their primary care doctors or an urgent care center and only go to the emergency room if they really have to.