Trip to freestanding ER ends with a $5,000 bill

Posted at 8:19 PM, May 11, 2016
and last updated 2016-05-11 22:33:41-04

A trip to the doctor for the flu ended up costing an Arvada woman and her insurance company more than $5,000. 

Now she wants to warn others about the cost of heading to a freestanding emergency room.

Tamara Elliot went to the UC Health Emergency Room on a Saturday when her doctor wasn’t available.

"I Googled urgent cares in the Arvada area," said Elliot, "and when I Googled it, it was one of the top ones that came up."

She assumed the UC stood for urgent care, not the University of Colorado.

However, after visiting the center, her bill revealed the center wasn't an urgent care clinic, but a freestanding ER that charges the same prices as a hospital emergency room.

"They should clearly state, 'We are an emergency room,' she said, "'we charge emergency room fees.'"

The bill was for more than $5,000, including insurance adjustments.

"I was shocked," the woman told Denver7's Brendaliss Gonzalez.

Elliot has to pay some $1,500 out-of-pocket.

"I was never advised at any point from the receptionist to the doctor or the nurse at any time that it wasn't an emergency room," she said.

Denver7 News contacted a representative for UC Health, who issued the following statement:

"Freestanding emergency facilities are designed to provide high quality emergency care, close to home, for patients in a community.  Different from urgent care centers, all emergency facilities provide emergency care 24 hours a day, 7 days per week, and are staffed exclusively with board-certified emergency physicians and emergency trained registered nurses. The facilities are equipped with a full radiology suite, including CT scanner, Digital X-ray, Ultrasound, as well as certified and accredited on-site laboratories.

"These freestanding locations are designed to care for patients with emergency medical conditions, and they have similar capabilities as hospital-based emergency departments. Accordingly, the billing at a freestanding emergency facility is similar to a hospital-based emergency department.

"It is important for patients to seek the appropriate level of care. Primary Care and Urgent Care locations may be the best option, during their operating hours, for those who have non-emergent injuries and minor illnesses. We have information on our website to help patients determine when an urgent care or ER location is best for their needs, and when they should immediately call 911. That info can be found at: Urgent vs. Emergency.

"All UCHealth Emergency Room locations display very prominent 'Emergency' and 'ER' signage to clearly show that we provide emergency care."

The building has signs on its exterior stating "Emergency Room" and "ER." But Elliot said because it wasn't attached to a hospital, she believed it was an urgent care clinic.

She wants freestanding ER’s to be required to post signs warning patients they are different than an urgent care clinic.

State legislation, HB 1374, which would have required freestanding ER's to post notices differentiating themselves from urgent care clinics was presented in the Colorado House of Representatives this year. However, after passing in the House, it died in a Senate committee earlier this month.

 Now Elliot hopes her story will serve as a warning for others to research a medical center before stepping in for treatment, because in her case, it may just be too late.

“Everyone’s saying nothing can be done at this point,” she said.