Outlining how freestanding ERs are handling COVID-19

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AUSTIN (Nexstar) — Alongside hospitals, freestanding emergency rooms are also testing patients for COVID-19, according to the Texas Emergency Care Center.

Rhonda Sandel, CEO of Texas Emergency Care Center said that so far, freestanding ERs across Texas have seen dozens of positive COVID-19 cases. What happens after the testing, however, depends on the patient’s symptoms.

“If the patient is stable, and is able to go home, the current regulations and requirements are that we send those patients home to self-quarantine until the results come back,” Sandel said.

If the patient is showing severe symptoms, the patient will likely be transferred to a hospital ICU.

Dr. Luke Padwick, CEO of AEC Physicians, said if a patient is being transferred to an ICU, it’s important for the freestanding ERs to ensure the hospital is aware the patient is showing COVID-19 symptoms.

“Really communicate to the hospital and to a transfer ambulance and the concern for coronavirus, although we clearly would not have test results yet, but a concern,” Padwick said.

He added that some hospitals have greater expertise and appropriate rooms for treating infectious diseases.

Sandel said freestanding ERs could be utilized to help hospitals with overflow if they reach capacity.

It is important to note, that if you are treated at a freestanding ER, and it is out-of-network for your insurance plan, you could end up paying more than a typical hospital visit.

However, a bill passed in the last legislative session ensures the freestanding ERs make patients aware of the costs ahead of time.

“We have to give the disclosures. Our fee schedules are on all of the websites across the state,” Sandel said.

Right now, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services does not recognize freestanding ERs.

Sandel said that means these facilities are having to absorb the costs of testing and treatment for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

However, she said a waiver from CMS could temporarily recognize freestanding ERs.

Earlier this week, Governor Greg Abbott announced the Texas Health and Human Services had submitted a Section 1135 waiver to CMS, which if approved, would relax some regulations for Medicare and Medicaid patients.

Sandel said the waiver does not include loosening regulations for freestanding ERs.

“What we would encourage the governor to do is expand his waiver to include coverage for all Medicare, Medicaid, and TRICARE patients to any licensed emergency facility in the state of Texas, including freestanding emergency centers,” Sandel explained.

She also added that would also allow ambulances to take patients to freestanding ERs more easily.

Currently, she said ambulances are not reimbursed for taking Medicare and Medicaid patients to these facilities.

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