It’s a misunderstanding that can costs patients thousands of dollars.
Two bills signed into law on Wednesday are designed to increase transparency around freestanding emergency rooms in Colorado.
For several years, 9NEWS has reported on complaints and confusion from patients who visit freestanding ERs. Many did not realize the difference between those facilities and the cheaper urgent care centers, or they did not realize the costs involved until receiving unexpectedly high bills.
“As a result of this becoming law, folks will get greater transparency, greater disclosure,” explained Senator John Kefalas (D-Fort Collins), one of the bill's sponsors. “So folks, when they go in these facilities, they'll be able to make informed decisions.”
The bill requires freestanding ERs to post a sign informing patients when they arrive that the facility is an emergency room that treats emergency medical conditions. The sign must explain whether or not the facility includes an urgent care. If not, the sign must explain the facility is not an urgent care or primary care facility.
Once the patient has completed his or her initial screening, they get more information under this new law.
If the patient is not experiencing an emergency medical condition, or the patient has been provided treatment to stabilize an emergency medical condition, the facility must provide information explaining what insurance it accepts.
The freestanding emergency room also has to specify the prices of the 25 most common health care services it provides, and let patients know that cost listed for each service is the maximum charge the patient would be billed.
“It’s great to have a freestanding emergency facility much closer to you than a hospital when you really, really need one,” said State Senator Jim Smallwood (R-Parker), another bill sponsor. “While at the same time making sure that they know if they have a mildly sprained ankle or a splinter… this probably isn't appropriate care.”
The push for transparency was supported by lawmakers from both parties.
“I’m a conservative Republican. I believe in free markets,” said another bill sponsor, State Representative Lang Sias (R-Arvada). “But I don’t think markets can work if consumers don’t have basic information about pricing at the point of sale.”
“And ultimately [patients] are going to make a good decision,” Senator Kefalas said. “This will force [facilities] to be more forthcoming, and it’s the right thing to do.”