Health & Science

Freestanding ERs in Texas May Be Misleading Patients, AARP Survey Finds

Receiving care at an out-of-network ER can result in a much more expensive bill than what patients were expecting to pay.

 

Independent emergency care centers in Texas, commonly called freestanding emergency rooms, often provide unclear or confusing information on pricing and insurance coverage to consumers, advocates say.

A recent AARP “secret shopper” survey of 213 freestanding ER facilities in Texas found less than half were able to answer a simple “yes” or “no” question about health plan coverage over the phone, and 77% of facilities say they “take” or “accept” insurance on their website when they are actually out of network for any major health plan.

The report also found 60% of freestanding ERs used language suggesting they were part of an insurer’s network when they were, in reality, out-of-network for all health plans.

AARP’s Blake Hutson says patients often end up at freestanding ERs when they mean to go to urgent care clinics. Considering the similarities between the two types of facilities, which are often found in strip malls instead of office buildings, patients frequently do not notice the difference until they get the bill, which can be an expensive mistake. 

“As compared to hospital ERs these facilities are almost exclusively out of network, where at a hospital at least the facility is largely going to be in-network for your big health insurance plans,” Hutson said.

Receiving care at an out-of-network ER can result in a much more expensive bill than what patients were expecting to pay.

“We now have some evidence that shows how the industry on a very broad scale misleads consumers about what they can expect in terms of how they’ll work with their insurance and what bills they’ll receive,” Hutson said.

Hutson said AARP is pushing for better enforcement of already existing disclosure laws and more transparent pricing.

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