Beware the Costs of Freestanding ERs

Beware the Costs of Freestanding ERs

When you or a family member gets sick or hurt, it always seems to happen when your doctor's office is closed.

Where you go for after-hours care makes a difference. You may be in for a costly surprise if you visit a free-standing emergency room. 

What are your options? Unless it is life threatening, an urgent care center is a good place to start.

They can handle problems that aren’t emergencies but also can’t wait, such as:

  • A cut that needs stitches
  • A sprained ankle
  • The flu
  • An ear infection

But beware of the added pain of high costs. Now there are freestanding ERs found in strip malls and other smaller buildings. They look like a walk-in clinic or urgent care center. But they charge hospital ER prices.

What’s the Impact?
You can pay more at a freestanding ER. They may not contract with your insurance company, putting you at risk for surprise bills called “balance billing.” They may say they take your health plan but leave out that this will likely be considered an "out-of-network"  benefit.

Remember: Where you go matters.
Protect yourself by seeking care in the most right setting for the type of health care needed. In a true health emergency, seek immediate care in the nearest emergency facility. When your care is simply urgent, take stock of your choices. Consider calling your doctor first for help (even after hours and weekends). Or call the number on your member ID card for help finding an in-network urgent care center and other services.

Ask questions until you get the answers you need to handle your health concerns without mismanaging your pocketbook. Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas offers a variety of patient education tools. You can:

  • Use a smartphone app to find the nearest urgent care clinic
  • Call the 24-hour nurse line for medical questions

That helps you skip higher costs at free-standing ER centers.

Originally published December 7, 2015

Anonymous