Citing facility charges that can sometimes top $6,000, a federal lawsuit with ties to Colorado seeks to challenge the billing practices of the country’s largest operator of freestanding emergency rooms.
The suit, which references ongoing reporting by 9Wants to Know, suggests the co-owner of 19 of Colorado's UCHealth ERs “actively conceals its billing practices from consumers until they send the patients their bills.”
Colorado psychiatrist David Adkinson is among five plaintiffs. In an exclusive interview with 9Wants to Know, Adkinson said he felt like “he’d been duped” after he visited a UCHealth ER in Colorado Springs last year.
What turned out to be a thigh bruise resulted in charges that topped $2,000, according to the lawsuit.
UCHealth is not a defendant in the lawsuit that seeks class-action status.
Instead, it targets UCHealth’s partner in the freestanding ER business in the state.
Since 2015, Texas-based Adeptus Health has held a 49.9 percent stake in almost all UCHealth ERs.
9Wants to Know launched its BuyER Beware series in late 2015 after viewers started telling us about large bills for relatively minor problems. In one instance, a man who visited an Adeptus-run freestanding ER in 2015 for the removal of a splinter received a bill for $2,100. Most of that bill came from a facility fee.
Since then, BuyER Beware has heard from dozens of freestanding ER patients with similar stories.
All of Colorado’s 45 freestanding emergency rooms -- named because of the fact they are not attached to hospitals – currently charge what’s known as a facility charge or facility fee.
Think of it like the charge to walk in the door should you receive treatment.
We’ve found facility charges of anywhere from $700 to $6,200 in many of Colorado’s freestanding ERs.
Freestanding ERs, like hospital-based ERs, routinely charge facility fees because ERs must operate around-the-clock and accept all patients, regardless of ability to pay.
David Adkinson was charged $1,277 facility fee for his 45-minute visit to a northern Colorado Springs UCHealth ER.
After his insurance kicked in and after the physician’s bill was applied, Adkinson was asked to pay more than $700 out-of-pocket.
“[Freestanding emergency rooms] are banking that people don’t know they’re going to be charged outrageous fees. We’ve heard [from patients] time and time again that of they knew what they were going to be charged, there’s no way in heck they were going to go to that facility,” said attorney Stuart Cochran.
Cochran has brought the suit against Adeptus Health on behalf of Adkinson and, as of now, four other plaintiffs.
The suit, filed in federal court in Texas, calls Adeptus’ facility fees “unconscionable.”
Adeptus currently runs or co-owns freestanding emergency rooms in Texas, Colorado, Ohio, Louisiana and Texas.
The lawsuit seeks to recover all facility fees paid by Texas and Colorado patients only.
The day after our original BuyER Beware story aired in November 2015, Adeptus’ stock price dropped 22% from nearly $60 a share to $46.50. Due to factors well beyond the scope of our reporting, it has since dropped even further, closing Tuesday at less than $3.
Adeptus, in its most recent regulatory filing with the SEC, reported “there is substantial doubt about the Company’s ability to continue as a going concern absent its securing committed long-term financing.”