How are hospitals taking a stand against patients abusing and/or crowding into emergency rooms? Establishments owned and operated by the Hospital Corporation of American (HCA) may start charging patients upfront fees — starting at $150 — for emergency room care. Patients who truly have an emergency or life-threatening emergency will not have to pay any immediate fees. The charges will apply to Americans who have routine illnesses or injuries only.
Are Upfront ER Bills Legal? Are They Ethical?
It is legal for emergency rooms to charge patients upfront fees. Keep in mind pregnant women, children under 6 years old, and seniors 65 and up will not be subject to these new fees. ERs will, however, charge patients an upfront fee if — after performing a legally required medical screening — they determine that they have routine symptoms only.
Is this fair? Is this ethical? Those questions are much harder to answer. While some professionals oppose the new charges, stating that they will turn away patients who may develop serious conditions over time, that particular percentage of patients is likely to be very low. On the opposite side of the spectrum, it is likely to discourage patients who cannot afford hefty emergency room bills — ultimately benefiting the patient and the hospital. “These practices help reduce costs for both the patient and the hospital. We think this is appropriate, given that some people use the ER in a way it was not intended: as a source for routine care,” expert John Merriweather says.
More Americans Choose 24 Hour Urgent Care Centers
Low cost, 24 hour urgent care centers, on the other hand, do not charge upfront fees of any kind. Patients can expect to pay an average of $71 to $125. In other words, they can expect to pay bills that may — literally — be thousands of dollars less than comparable emergency room bills. The centers are also open night and day, weekends, and holidays.