Beware the Costs of Freestanding ERs

Beware the Costs of Freestanding ERs

It's Murphy's Law. When you or a family member gets sick or hurt, chances are it will happen when your doctor's office is closed.

In the heat of the moment, you may head to an after-hours care facility closest to you. Makes sense, right? In reality, where you go for care makes a difference. If you visit a free-standing emergency room, you may be in for a costly surprise. 

Be sure to carefully consider all your choices for non-emergency care. Unless it is life threatening, an urgent care center is a good place to start.

These centers handle health issues that aren’t emergencies, but need immediate attention. Some examples include:

  • A cut that needs stitches
  • A sprained ankle
  • The flu
  • An ear infection
Beware of Look a Likes

Freestanding ERs found in strip malls and other smaller buildings often look like walk-in clinics and urgent care centers, but charge prices that are more in line with a hospital ER.

There are several reasons your out-of-pocket costs are likely to be more at a freestanding ER. They may not contract with your insurance companyThey may say they take your health plan, but forget to mention that you may not get "in network" benefits because the facility is actually out of network.

Where You Go Matters

Protect you and your family. Get care in the right setting for the care you need. In a true health emergency, seek immediate help at the nearest emergency facility. When your care is simply urgent, think about all 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 busting your budget. 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

Both help you skip higher costs at free-standing ER centers.

Originally published 12/7/2015; Revised 2020, 2022, 2024