U.S. media reports in the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic drove many worried citizens to seek care (or even just testing) wherever they could, without regard to whether it was the best setting for their situation. Months later, as billing is catching up, it’s time to pay the piper—and some of the bills are far higher than patients may have expected. As we’ve seen historically, a good number are associated with freestanding emergency rooms. A patient in Texas reportedly got hit with a $10,984 bill after a 30-minute visit and blood draw at a freestanding ED. A similar visit to an urgent care center would likely have been in the range of $200. This has also drawn the attention of U.S. media outlets, with The New York Times revealing that it collected 350 “surprise bills” from coronavirus patients, most relating to visits to out-of-network physicians, ambulances, and medical labs. The article goes on to remind the reader that Congress passed legislation to prevent surprise billing for COVID-19 patients—suggesting that practices who send exorbitant bills months after providing care could face legal consequences. In the meantime, this may be a good time to renew your efforts to distinguish your operation from freestanding EDs by ensuring insurance, price, and billing transparency on your website, in signage, and when patients check in (for COVID-19 or more “typical” urgent care presentations).
Surprise COVID-19 Bills Are Starting to Hit Patients. Can Urgent Care Be a Solution?