Bill filed in Austin aims at ending ER sticker shock

(Photo by Ke'Sha Lopez)
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WACO, Texas (KWTX) Freestanding emergency rooms have become popular over the last decade in Central Texas because of shorter wait times and warmer patient care, but a visit can come with an unexpected price tag because many of the facilities are outside of health insurance networks.

House Bill 2041, pending in the Legislature in Austin, would require these facilities to post written documentation making it clear that a treatment may not be covered in-network.

The bill would require signs to be posted throughout the facilities and even in treatment rooms and an understanding of the actual cost of treatment would be reached before a doctor ever sees the patient.

"Currently, very few freestanding ERs are in-network providers; however they tell patients that they ‘take’ or ‘accept’ patients' insurance and advertise using health plan logos. HB 2041 will prohibit both of these practices,” said the bill’s author, state Rep. Tom Oliverson, R-Cypress, who’s a physician.

Premier ER, which facilities in Waco, Woodway, China Spring, and Temple, has already taken a step forward by creating a new department to handle such issues.

"We designed our Patient Advocate Department late last year to really advocate for the patients and fight for them when they do come through our ER with the insurance company to make sure that they're billed appropriately,” Kristen Holcomb, the vice president of communications and patient relations for Premier ER, said.

She said their patients are handed blue folders that contain information on whom to contact within the company for billing help.

The Texas Department of Insurance offers to help patients who do receive surprise bills, can help with mediation and complaints and can also outline patients’ options.

The TDI's Consumer Help Line number is 1-800-252-3439.

As for the bill passing, professionals like Holcomb are supporting it.

"So, we are hopeful and I think there may be issues that may come out that will also strengthen not only the freestanding world, but just the healthcare industry as a whole."