April 7, 2017

AUSTIN—The Texas Association of Health Plans (TAHP), the statewide trade association representing commercial and public health plans operating in Texas, today applauded Senate committee passage (Health & Human Services) of Texas Senator Charles Schwertner’s SB 1592, which would ensure that independently owned freestanding emergency rooms (FSERs) are held to the same standards as hospital-based emergency rooms. Specifically, the legislation would require FSERs to be assessed the same violation penalties as those assessed on hospital-based ERs and seeks to create a strong deterrent for freestanding ERs to not violate their licensure requirements.

“Time and again, Texans meet confusion and frustration with misleading advertising and exorbitant prices when they seek care from independent freestanding ERs. These facilities have demonstrated a pattern of withholding important information from patients regarding their network status or the fees they will charge for their services,” said Jamie Dudensing, TAHP CEO and a former practicing nurse. “Because freestanding ERs continue to ask to be compared not to walk-in urgent care centers, which consumers often confuse them for, but to hospital-based ERs, it’s important that they are also held to the same standards as traditional ERs. Sen. Schwertner’s legislation would ensure just that and hold freestanding ERs more accountable for following important licensing rules that protect Texas patients.”

Texans are often confused by misleading advertising at independent freestanding ERs and end up with expensive, surprise medical bills after their visit. Austin resident Charlene Fern recently shared her experience, which included a visit to an Austin-area freestanding ER that she mistook for an urgent care center and resulted in a $2500 bill. Her visit lasted 15 minutes and the doctor merely recommended she apply Benadryl to a suspected spider bite. Listen to Charlene’s story here. Texas Senators and Representatives have introduced 9 separate bills during the 85th Legislature to address concerns with freestanding ERs and out-of-network emergency care. Read more here.

Background on SB 1592

  • Freestanding ERs continue to make the case that they are different from urgent care centers or physicians’ offices and should be compared only to hospital-based ERs.
  • SB 1592 would ensure they are treated the same as hospital-based ERs with regard to violation penalties by establishing a new $25,000 fee cap.

Background on Freestanding ERs

  • There are more than 200 FSERs in Texas – more than half the nation’s population of these facilities.
  • Freestanding ERs pose the highest risk or surprise medical bills for Texans and are responsible for nearly 70 percent of out-of-network emergency facility claims in Texas.
  • Charge for treating a cough at a freestanding ER: $3,044. Treating a cough at an urgent care center: $180.

Read more about the emergency care cost crisis in Texas, along with background on freestanding ERs and how they use misleading advertising, charge exorbitant prices, and refuse to go in network: