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.

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