Beware of the Emergency Care Clinic

This post is a bit out of the norm for me but I thought a good number of my Texas readers would be interested in this information.  Have you noticed the large number of stand alone emergency care centers popping up?  They look a lot like a CareNow or a Minute Clinic but they are vastly different!

emergency room signMy mother-in-law recently popped into an emergency care clinic near her home when she became ill.  The facility was built in an old Eckerd Pharmacy store that had been remodeled.  About five years ago, legislation went through Austin allowing stand alone emergency clinics.  The major difference between these care centers and an urgent care facility is the price.

How many of us would knowingly go to the emergency room if we think we have strep throat?  Very few of us.  But when you step into an emergency care clinic, which might look just like a CareNow, you have indeed stepped into an emergency room.  It is a mistake that countless Texans have made since this legislation was passed.  The bill for the strep throat test at the emergency care clinic was $400 plus service fees.  For comparison, Minute Clinic lists the price for a strep test on their website at $30.

Emergency care clinics charge emergency room prices for services and pass the added expense along to the insurance companies and the consumer.  In many cases the insurance company will go ahead and pay the bill, which is one reason our premiums are so high.  But in some cases insurance companies reject charges from these facilities leaving the consumer on the hook for the inflated pricing.

Dave Lieber, an investigative reporter for the Dallas Morning News, wrote an in-depth article about these facilities and the legislation that allows them to operate.  (You can read the FEC Licensing Act here.)  Mr. Lieber does a great job of pointing out the key way to determine if you are at an urgent care facility or an emergency clinic.  By law, an emergency clinic must have the word “emergency” or “ER” in the title of the business or the numbers “24/7.”

There is nothing wrong with the stand alone emergency clinics.  They offer a vital service if a patient has a true emergency.  They have top-notch equipment and properly trained medical staff.  I felt it was worth writing this post to warn my fellow Texans about these facilities if you think they are just another urgent care facility.  No where in the legislation for these facilities are they required to tell patients the cost for services or if your health insurance will cover the procedures.  It is a buyer beware scenario.

Most of us are not capable of making clear and informed decisions when we are sick or dealing with a medical emergency.  As Mr. Lieber suggested, take a few moments to contact your insurance company to determine if your local emergency clinic is in-network.  When an emergency arises you can make an informed decision about where to seek treatment.  If you are sick, try to visit your primary physician or an urgent care facility like CareNow or Minute Clinic.

Don’t live in Texas?  Similar legislation is passing in states across the country as medical providers look for additional sources of revenue.  Consider doing a Google search for “emergency care clinic licensing” and the name of your state.  If you have noticed a boom of stand alone medical facilities your state has probably enacted similar legislation.

Comments

Beware of the Emergency Care Clinic — 9 Comments

  1. Jon,

    I had a similar experience. I received an insect bite on my leg and after 4 days it had not improved, so one night I decided to make the trek down to my local “ER in a box” (old Blockbuster Video store). After about 1.5 hours, I was on my way, painless enough. The Dr. opened the bite, drained, treated with antibiotic ointment, and wrapped. Imagine my surprise when I got a bill in the mail for about $1000. Next time, I’ll use my knife, Neosporin, and a band-aid.

    The main problem with these centers is the lack of information about them. Mansfield has had PLENTY of them open up in the past year or so. I agree, do your homework, and have a plan before stepping foot in one.

    • And you thought the insect bite was painful! I think a price list for services, like Minute Clinic and CareNow have, would be a great starting point. Thanks for sharing your story Jon!

  2. I’ve never used either the emergency care clinics or the care now clinics, but I know at least one of my kids have, so I’ll try to pass this info along to them. Thanks. On another note: Several years ago when I still had kids in elementary school and there was a pending school bond election with a LARGE portion of the money earmarked for “technology” I met with those involved in making the decisions about this stuff in the HEB district, at that time, and Dave Lieber agreed to go with me to this meeting. I left dissatisfied, but at least I gave it a shot. I really appreciated his coming along and his subsequent article (back in his Star-Telegram days). BTW HEB paid $3000 each for 800mhz Dell computers w/ monitors and printers. Five years later they sold the cpu’s on a pallet of 50 for $50. Same for the monitors. Taxpayers are STILL paying for them and will be for, I think, another 15 years or so. There’s more, but for another time… Bottom line: I am going to almost always be against any bond election that isn’t for something long term. In other words, once the bonds are paid off I still want to be able to see what they went for.

    • Definitely some good info to pass along Ted…especially for the household with your grandchild 🙂

      Since I have been doing the auction thing I have seen an amazing amount of waste in our school districts, municipalities, and state government. I will say that the state of Texas seems to squeeze the most life out of their stuff since anything I have ever bought from the state is beat nearly to death. Municipalities are the worst…specifically the city with the Jerry Dome. I have bought brand new items from that city simply because they had to get rid of that new item so they could buy another new item so they wouldn’t lose that portion of the budget. The bond proposals are about the worst waste I can think of due to the continuing interest on the purchase.

  3. We have used Care Now several times when we couldn’t see our regular doctor. I like the Web Check in, less waiting time in lobby. Plus if you wake up feeling crummy in the wee hours, they open at eight, and you can reserve your 8 am spot in the middle of the night. Has used different locations: Hurst off HWY 26, also the one in the Euless area just past Glade Road on East side of 121. Beats ER prices, and just like any other doctor visist, you have to ask questions and be able to explain your symptoms honestly. Most of us know what the problem is, unless it’s something totally new.

    • We are big fans of CareNow as well Lisa! They do a really good job of keeping things moving and provide good service at a fair price. I think the challenging part is when these emergency clinics look so similar to a CareNow or a Minute Clinic. The emergency clinics are vastly different in operation and billing than the urgent care facilities like CareNow.

  4. took daughter w/suspected broken finger to emergency clinic at Davis & N Tarrant. They took X-rays and splinted it. I paid a $40 or $50 copay (can’t remember) and thought we were done. Then about a month later got a bill for almost $400!! Should’ve taken her to the Cook’s clinic! Beware! Thanks for the info!!

    • Sounds quite familiar! Seems like there are a lot of folks who find out after the fact that their insurance provider won’t recognize bills from some of these places. Always fun to get that large surprise medical bill in the mail!

      • I’ve got an update on our experience. After we paid the aforementioned “co-pay” of $40 at time of treatment, it wasn’t until October that we received a bill from E-Care for $392.19. I laid it aside, then the holidays happened, the bill got buried on my desk and was forgotten. Strangely, we got no follow-up invoices from this place at all until now. Just last week, we got a bill from them showing a “Courtesy Discount Adjustment” for $351.15. What?? I have no idea what that means, but I’m going with it and will send them the remaining balance of $41.04 just to be done with them. Lesson learned!!! Thanks for the heads-up on these places!