The total price of a freestanding emergency room visit in Texas averaged $2,199 in 2015 versus $168 for an urgent care clinic visit.
Care delivered at freestanding emergency departments in Texas can cost 10 times as much as the same care delivered at an urgent care center, providing unwary consumers with a hard lesson in retail healthcare when they're handed the bill, research suggests.
The rapid growth of freestanding EDs in Texas has led to sizeable increases in out-of-pocket expenses for consumers, according to research published in the Annals of Emergency Medicine.
"These findings are significant for both patients who find themselves in need of immediate care, as well as for the overall healthcare system," said research co-author Vivian Ho, PhD, chair in health economics at Rice University's Baker Institute for Public Policy and director of the institute's Center for Health and Biosciences.
Ho said patients don't realize the price difference for these two types of facilities until they learn their out-of-pocket expenses. The total price of a freestanding ED visit averaged $2,199 in 2015 versus $168 for an urgent care clinic visit.
In each case, patients were expected to pay one third out of pocket. The average price for similar treatment at hospital-based emergency departments, where patients would have paid 33% out of pocket was $2,259.
"Many patients mistakenly think that freestanding emergency departments and urgent care clinics are similar, because they are often conveniently located in neighborhood shopping centers with modest storefronts," Ho said.
"The sticker shock is alarming. Insurers are being forced to pay higher prices for many healthcare services at freestanding emergency departments that could have been dealt with at much lower cost. These unnecessary medical costs then get passed onto all insurance consumers in terms of higher premiums."
Freestanding EDs Defend Findings
Gillian Schmitz, MD, a San Antonio, TX-based emergency physician who works in both freestanding and hospital-based EDs, said the study's findings validate many claims made by freestanding ED advocates.
John Commins is a senior editor at HealthLeaders.