Centennial man billed $11,251 to get sinus infection checked out

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$11,000 bill to have sinus infection checked out at standalon emergency room

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CENTENNIAL, Colo. -- A Centennial man went to get a sinus infection checked out and ended up with a medical bill of $11,251.

It sounds like the cost of major surgery.

“This has got to be wrong, you know, is it a misprint?” Susie Martell said.

Martell said her son thought he was walking into an urgent care clinic in August to get a diagnosis and some medicine for a sinus infection.

“The doctor's office was closed,” she said.

It turns out her son walked into a standalone emergency room. Many have been popping up across the Denver metro area, and it’s a very costly mix-up.

Among the charges listed were a $3,222 for a CT scan and a $6,237 facility usage fee. Martell was upset when the family later received the bill, but she soon realized she wasn’t alone.

Lawmakers are considering a proposal designed to try to prevent this from happening to anyone else.

The nonprofit Colorado Consumer Health Initiative is backing the bill that would notify patients about the freestanding emergency rooms, and their costs are much different than urgent care.

“Consumers should have the right to the information before they make decisions about their health care, whether that's information about care or about costs,” said Caitlin Westerson with the Colorado Consumer Health Initiative.

The Colorado Hospital Association opposes the bill, citing concern that it violates federal law designed to ensure ERs accept all patients, regardless of their ability to pay.

"While we regret that we are currently opposed to House Bill 16-1374, the Colorado Hospital Association has taken this position because of concerns about elements of the bill that would force hospitals to violate federal law known as EMTALA – the Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act," it said in a statement.

"The Association is a strong supporter of improving transparency of health care costs and quality and has recently taken steps to engage our members on voluntary actions they can take to help consumers understand their rights and responsibilities when seeking care at freestanding emergency facilities.

"Federal law requires hospitals that offer emergency services (including at freestanding facilities) to provide a medical screening examination and stabilize a patient, regardless of that patient’s ability to pay. Anything that can be interpreted as discouraging a person from seeking care at that facility violates the law.

Despite these limitations, CHA is committed to working with the bill’s sponsors and supporters to find solutions that enable consumers to make informed decisions about their care.”

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Beth McCann, D-Denver, passed the House Health, Insurance and Environment committee on Thursday night.

At the very least, Martell hoped to get the word out.

“To save other people from going through what we just went through,” she said.

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