Protecting patients against the suspect billing practices—especially “surprise billing”—of freestanding emergency rooms seems to be a high priority in the Texas legislature. Most recently, a bill that offers patients more ways to contest bills was signed into law; Senate Bill 507 expands the use of mediation to contest surprise medical bills. This problem is perceived as especially great in Texas, which is home to more than half of the freestanding ERs in the country. Further, nearly 70% of out-of-network emergency claims in Texas occur at freestanding ERs. Another new law, formerly known as House Bill 3276, requires freestanding ERs to disclose up front which health plan networks they belong to, and to specify the ones they do not belong to. These facilities often look like urgent care centers, but charge far higher rates for the same services, on average. They’ve been roundly criticized for not doing enough to make that known.
In Texas, Progress Toward Prohibiting ‘Surprise Billing’ by Freestanding ERs