After visiting a freestanding emergency room for a COVID-19 test, a McAllen woman is now looking at a medical bill in the thousands.
“I was not feeling well. [It] felt like I had a fever. I was having a hard time breathing,” the woman, who chose to remain anonymous, said.
She said all the signs pointed to one thing.
“I thought, ‘I need to get in as soon as I can to get a COVID-19 test,'” she said.
She did what many others have done, and visited the nearest emergency room.
“They gave me a bunch of documents to sign,” she said. “And I was at the point [where] I was going to sign anything, because I was feeling that bad.”
A few days later she received the results of the test— negative.
But the good news didn’t last.
“There was so much panic over COVID, that people were willing to do just about anything to get that test,” the woman said. “Sometimes that meant making a decision that maybe wasn’t the best one to make.”
She said after a couple months, she was faced with the bill from her visit to the ER.
“I [got] [a] bill from my insurance company and the emergency room charged my insurance over $12,000 for a COVID-19 test,” she said.
But it wasn’t the test that was so expensive, it’s where she decided to get the test that affected the cost.
“When I [called] my insurance company, I found out it was something called a facility fee for treatment and an observation fee,” the woman said.
Dr. Robert Martinez is the chief medical officer of DHR Health in Edinburg. He says certain things have to occur during an emergency room visit that will result in a timely and expensive venture for anybody.
Martinez said people need to know there is a difference between going to the ER and going to an urgent care facility.
“Just by definition, you showing up there, certain things have to happen,” Martinez said. “You have to use certain codes there and once you order a particular lab test [or] order a particular this or that, that starts the chain of these things.”
Martinez said he recommends going to an urgent care facility over an ER if you’re not the ‘sickest’ of the sick.
“Way cheaper,” Martinez said. “Way, way cheaper on the order of a couple hundred bucks for a normal visit at an urgent care, depending on the testing you get done, versus a few thousand dollars.”
University of Texas Rio Grande Valley Clinical Lab Director Dr. John Thomas said his lab uses the ‘gold standard’ of COVID-19 tests— the reverse transcription-polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test.
“The cost for doing that test, depending on where you go can kind of vary,” Thomas said. “You usually see the cost for that test though in the $100 [to] $200 range, certainly not $10,000 [to] $15,000.”
Exceptional Emergency Center is one of several free standing ER’s across the Valley.
While they are not the standing ER the McAllen woman visited, they did provide Channel 5 with a statement to clarify what exactly a free standing ER is.
“Freestanding ER rates are just like hospital ER’s in all facets,” Chief Operating Officer for Exceptional Healthcare Inc. Bruce McVeigh said in a statement. “We offer the same services and capabilities as hospital ERs but usually with better concierge services. We bill just like hospitals for the normal fee. We take great pride in the areas we serve.”
Now, the woman said she wants to warn others who may be going through a similar situation to read the fine print, even if they’re feeling too sick to do so.