An ER, a hospital-operated urgent care center and vastly different prices

Patients who undergo treatment at a hospital emergency room versus a hospital-owned urgent care center can expect to see a huge differential in prices.

That was the experience of an unnamed patient whom WBUR said went to the emergency room at Martha's Vineyard Hospital for treatment of stomach pain. She received an abdominal CT scan and underwent blood and urine tests. The diagnosis: Uncomplicated diverticulitis. She was prescribed an antibiotic, took an Advil and went home.

A couple of weeks later, when the symptoms flared up again, the patient visited an urgent care center operated by Boston's Beth Deaconess Medical Center. Again, she received an abdominal CT and underwent some blood and urine tests. 

The bill for the urgent care visit was $574.97. The bill for the hospital ER visit: $3,888.76, or more than a six-fold difference.

Massachusetts is no stranger to extremely high bills for relatively simple care, such as one instance where a patient was billed more than $1,500 for an eye exam. And despite having one of the few laws nationwide that allow patients to obtain prices from insurers or providers in a timely fashion, many healthcare organizations still struggle with compliance

A spokesperson for Martha's Vineyard Hospital told WBUR that it charged more because as an acute care facility it is far more complicated to operate than an urgent care center, and that two scans were performed (although the explanation of benefits only showed one scan was performed). WBUR also observed that Martha's Vineyard owner Partners HealthCare is one of the priciest providers in Massachusetts. However, the hospital spokesperson said that it was planning to open a walk-in clinic that would have significantly lower prices.

To learn more:
- read the WBUR article