Free-standing ERs soon might be forced to tell costs upfront

DENVER -- Free-standing emergency rooms have become a trend in neighborhoods.

One of the more common complaints is the confusion they cause with patients when it comes to cost.

The ERs are not attached to hospitals and sometimes are next door to liquor stores or tire shops.

“I didn't expect the prices of the ER to be that high,” Mike Muthart said.

Muthart went to the UC Health free-standing ER off Bowles Avenue in Littleton in September for a kidney stone and walked away with a $15,000 bill.

Muthart, who just moved to Colorado, said where he is from those facilities charge like an urgent care or a doctor's office.

As a result, Muthart was forced to sell a home.

“I had a house in Idaho that I was renting out and when I received this bill I saw no other way than to sell my house,” Muthart said.

Muthart’s story is just one of many that have happened over the years.

Lawmakers at the state Capitol appear poised to require free-standing emergency rooms to provide more information to patients regarding costs.

A bill by State Sen. John Kefalos, a Democrat, and State Sen. Jim Smallwood, a Republican, advanced Tuesday in the State Senate Finance Committee.

The measure requires the facilities to make clear to patients they are in an emergency room and not an urgent care.

They also would require the sites to tell the patients the costs of their top 25 most common procedures before going ahead with treatment unless it is classified as a severe emergency.

“The intent is to provide transparency,” Kefalas said. “They can make an informed decision about whether they should get treatment there or whether they should go to an urgent care and get the same treatment for a lot cheaper."

It is still unclear however if this bill will become law.

The Colorado Hospital Association has not indicated whether it supports the effort.

“CHA continues to work with Senators Kefalas and Smallwood on SB 18-146 concerning Freestanding Emergency Departments," spokeswoman Julie Lonberg said in a statement.

"The Association values the work the bill sponsors are doing to address a few remaining concerns. CHA appreciates the opportunity to be part of an engaged group of stakeholders working to improve consumer experience with Colorado Emergency Departments.”

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