Standalone ERs may cause healthcare costs to rise

Freestanding emergency rooms are touted as an alternative to more expensive forms of care, such as the sunken costs of a full hospital. However, they may also drive up total healthcare costs as well.

There is a preponderance of freestanding ERs in the Dallas region--five within a 10-mile vicinity, according to the Dallas/Forth Worth Healthcare Daily. Six years ago there were 20 freestanding ERs throughout the state. Now, there are 215, the article said. 

These freestanding ERs provide patients with a way to access emergency services more quickly than in conventional emergency rooms. The Baylor Healthcare system claimed in 2014 that check-in to discharge can average just one hour at its freestanding facility in the Forth Worth suburb of Burleson, Texas.

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But the rapid growth of such centers may drive up costs for all providers, according to the publication. If such centers are unaffiliated with a larger hospital, they often have trouble billing Medicare and Medicaid--one of the reasons the Dallas freestanding ERs are often in affluent areas. They are also significantly more expensive than urgent care centers, many of which tend to be in-network for insurers. Many impose facility fees to provide around-the-clock services. Such fees can run $800 to $1,000, not including the cost of care.

"Every time someone goes to get a (urinary tract infection) looked at at a 24-hour emergency room and they pay $2,000 to $3,000 and it could've been taken care of in a doctor's office for $100, how much does that save?" Chris Crow, M.D., a Dallas doctor who has been highly critical of freestanding ERs, asked the Healthcare Daily. "It's pretty simple math." 

To learn more:
- read the article