COVID-19 Tests At Freestanding ERs Lead to Big Surprise Bills

By Consumers For Quality Care, on August 14, 2020

COVID-19 Tests At Freestanding ERs Lead to Big Surprise Bills

The Texas Association of Health Plans (TAHP) says that freestanding emergency rooms are often behind big surprise bills for COVID-19 testing.

TAHP, which represents two dozen health insurance companies in Texas, called the big bills a “dangerous new trend,” reports CBS Houston.

“They’re charging for the test, for a physician fee of $500 to $1,000 and a facility fee for anywhere from $2,000 to $5,000, just for a cotton swab test for COVID-19,” said TAHP CEO Jamie Dudensing.

The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers, however, says that the high bills are a result of state rules that limit the medical services they’re able to provide.

“The state law only currently allows us to provide emergency services in our facility,” said Rhonda Sandel, CEO of Texas Emergency Care in Houston and a board member of the National Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers. “Although it’s a higher level of care, a much higher level, it’s also much more costly care,” Sandel said.

That’s why freestanding emergency rooms are requesting a temporary waiver that would allow them to provide non-emergent care – which is coded at lower rates – during the pandemic. 

Under the federal government’s CARES Act, freestanding emergency rooms are required to post their prices online or provide them in person. Costs associated with COVID-19 testing have also been waived under the new law.

However, health care experts warn that if this trend continues, patients could be left on the hook for higher premiums in the future.