Bipartisan Colorado bill targets transparency in freestanding ERs

Democratic State Sen. John Kefalas, Republican State Sen. Jim Smallwood, Republican State Rep. Lang Sias and Democratic State Rep. Jonathan Singer all think "it's time for transparency."

It was a rude awakening for Karen Rudy last July when her husband was suffering severe abdominal pain. He woke her up at three in the morning by kicking the bathroom door frame to get her attention, she said.

Rudy rushed her husband to the UCHealth Broomfield Hospital where they drew blood for lab work, gave him an IV and administered an abdominal CT scan.

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"[There was] nothing significant and, you know, by the next day he was feeling a lot better," Rudy said.

Her nightmare, however, continues seven months later. Even though her husband's visit was non-emergent, she now has to pay more than $4,000 of a nearly $15,000 bill.

"I think had we known what the cost was going to be, we probably would've just taken our chances and said no," Rudy said.

Four Republican and Democratic Colorado lawmakers hope this is exactly what a bill they're sponsoring might fix. Democratic State Sen. John Kefalas, Republican State Sen. Jim Smallwood, Republican State Rep. Lang Sias and Democratic State Rep. Jonathan Singer all think "it's time for transparency."

"If I walk into a freestanding ER and I'm not having an emergency then I have the right to know about how much something is going to cost me," Singer said.

If this bill becomes law, everyone else will have that right, too.

"So what we're trying to do is say, 'Buyer beware,'" Singer said. "If it's not an emergency, tell the consumer what they're going to have to pay and let them decide."

In a statement to 9NEWS, the Colorado Hospital Association writes, "Colorado Hospital Association is not opposed conceptually to this bill and in fact has a long-standing history of supporting transparency. The Association continues to work with the legislative sponsors on some technical changes needed in the bill to keep hospitals in alignment with existing law."

Similar bills have failed before, according to Singer. He thinks this time might be different though because of the bipartisan support. It's already passed two committees and has to clear one more before heading to the Senate floor.

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If all of this sounds familiar, 9Wants to Know -- through its BuyER Beware series -- started investigating freestanding ER charges three years ago. Past efforts to change the law, and the current effort, were in part inspired by what 9Wants to Know found.