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Imagine your child suddenly develops a bad headache or stomachache. The condition is serious but not life-threatening. You want to go to an urgent care facility, but it is late, and they are all closed. You decide to go to the closest emergency room. They administer an IV, do some blood-work, take an X-ray, run some diagnostic tests, and observe for a few hours, after which your child is feeling better and is discharged. Imagine your utter shock when, two months later, you receive bill(s) for over $5 THOUSAND DOLLARS!
This happened to me TWICE with ERs related to UCHealth (University of Colorado Health) in 2014 and 2016 (and unfortunately a third time in 2018 due to an incident out of my direct control). UCHealth billed over $5900 for a stomachache, and over $8300 for a migraine! The average emergency room visit in the US costs $1233 (source: UCSF). My visits to UCHealth-related ERs should have cost near the average. Instead, UCHealth billed many times reasonable and customary levels, even for ERs.
It happened to me, it can easily happen to you. Of course, in life-threatening emergencies, the closest ER is the only logical choice. However, if your emergency is not life threatening, then I urge you to consider your options before going to a UCHealth ER if at all possible. Once admitted, you have no financial control. The best way to prevent what happened to me from happening to you and also to protest the unscrupulous fraudulent price-gouging by UCHealth ERs is to simply avoid using UCHealth entirely whenever possible.
PLEASE BOYCOTT UCHealth!
FOR SERIOUS LIFE-THREATENING HEALTH-RELATED EMERGENCIES, ALWAYS DIAL 911 OR SEEK MEDICAL HELP AT THE NEAREST EMERGENCY ROOM!
For less serious non-life-threatening conditions, please consider using an urgent care facility instead of an ER whenever possible. Urgent care facilities are generally much less expensive than ERs.
Emergency Rooms (ERs) serve an essential function in our society. We depend on ERs for vital support in health-related emergencies. We literally entrust our lives to these businesses. Many ERs are 100% reputable, genuinely care for their patients, and charge amounts that are justifiably higher than urgent care facilities, but still reasonable and customary relative to other ERs. I know this first-hand because I personally visited one such reputable ER (in Colorado) for various conditions about 6 times between 2010 and 2014.
However, some ERs take financial advantage of their patients and unjustifiably charge many times reasonable and customary rates, even by ER standards. This is price gouging, plain and simple. They do this without any indication of these outrageous costs until they send the bill(s) months later. These business practices are unscrupulous, unethical, infuriating, demoralizing, and illegal.
Consider that you would never agree to any type of service without knowing the cost beforehand. If you knew something were going to cost many times as much as it should, would you buy it? Of course not! We do sometimes knowingly pay a premium for better or faster service, but in virtually all cases, we know what the premium will be before agreeing to those services.
ERs should be no different. As consumers, we have a legal right to a fair price for services, even when it comes to emergency medical care. ERs should plainly state their fees prior to admission. If ERs recommend a test or procedure, they should provide the cost estimate at the time of recommendation.
Many ERs assess the severity level of each patient at their sole discretion and charge a ‘facility fee’ based on their assessment. They do not usually disclose their assessment criteria (or related facility fees) even if asked. (See here for standardized ER severity level descriptions.)
UCHealth ERs assessed me at the two highest severity levels (4 and 5) even for my relatively minor ER conditions. The resulting facility fees were around $2100 for Level 4 and $4200 for Level 5! These were line-item charges, not including any tests or procedures! In one case, at a UCHealth “Free Standing” ER, the facility fee did not even include the doctor’s fee of $2400! They failed to mention that there would be a separate doctor’s bill during admission or how much it would be! This is unscrupulous, despicable, fraudulent, and totally unacceptable!
The entire ‘facility fee’ concept is inherently consumer-antagonistic! If an ER wants to charge a fee for the use of their facility, it should be based on the actual time spent in the facility and the actual services performed while there. Note that they ADDITIONALLY CHARGE for each separate service. Charging a fixed fee based on severity is bogus. Not informing patients of facility fees at check-in and additional fees when incurred is criminal!
While disputing my bills, I was told by a UCHealth rep that they almost never assess severity levels from 1 to 3. (REALLY?! THEN WHY DO THEY EXIST?) Logically, the typical/average ER visit should be a severity level of 3, but that is not the case at UCHealth ERs. They told me that just getting an IV is what UCHealth considers at least Level 4 severity. This is totally ridiculous and another example of an unscrupulous business practice by UCHealth ERs! A bad stomachache or headache that are gone within a few hours (even if an IV was administered and diagnostic tests were performed) is absolutely not just-cause to assign the highest severity levels of 4 or 5!
The prices mentioned above are so-called ‘retail’ prices, meaning the raw amounts that the ER bills prior to insurance. Perhaps you have good medical insurance and are responsible for only a small portion of the bills for your and your family’s ER visits. However, you should still be concerned about ERs billing outrageously high amounts since it impacts your future insurance premiums.
Please note that UCHealth ERs operate both within hospitals and as “free standing” ERs. (Here is a link to all UCHealth locations.) Hospitals may not advertise whether their ERs are run by UCHealth. For example, Memorial Hospital North ER in Colorado Springs is run by UCHealth. If you are unsure, you can call a hospital and ask, ideally long before an emergency health situation develops!
Be especially cautious of the unscrupulous billing shenanigans of UCHealth’s “Free Standing” ERs. They may look and feel much the same as urgent care facilities, but they bill at ER rates, which, for me were many times higher than reasonable and customary ER rates. I was sent four separate bills for a visit to a UCHealth “Free Standing” ER without any mention of this when I checked in or at any time during the visit. For my relatively minor ER visits, I got the exact same level of service as at an urgent care facility, but got billed very many times as much as an urgent care. (I know this because I have also gone to an urgent care facility for a migraine and was charged a total of ~$600, including an IV!) This is truly despicable! Shame on you, UCHealth!
If you have already been overcharged by UCHealth ERs (or other medical provider), your options are limited, but there are actions you can take. See here for recommendations.
Email us at email@example.com. Note that we are now offering free bumper stickers with this text:
“UCHealth ERs PRICE GOUGE! BoycottUCHealth.org”.
Just let us know your mailing address and how many you want (limit 3 bumper stickers per address please)