KATY MAGAZINE NEWS
August 19, 2019
By Natalie Cook Clark
A Katy mom took her injured daughter to a local freestanding ER to examine a small cut on the girl's forehead. The mom was charged nearly $3,000 for a four-inch long plastic bandage. Now she wants answers and wants to help prevent other families from encountering the same billing nightmare.
Photo credit: Angie Waller
Daughter Gashes Forehead in Ballet Leap
On June 1, 2019, Megan Porter's three-year-old daughter did a ballet leap into the corner of a wall in their Katy home. The not-so-graceful stunt left a gash in the ballerina's head and a very worried mother. The accident happened mid-day on a Saturday and the Porter's regular pediatrician was closed.
"I wanted to be sure stitches weren’t necessary and was referred by a neighbor to take her to First Choice Emergency Room at 1510 South Mason Road," says Porter.
Even though the sign clearly states the facility is an emergency room, Porter never expected the level of costs. "No one talked about what to expect on pricing," says Porter.
Daughter is Fine, Bank Account is Not
Fortunately Porter's daughter is fine. Yet that day has the mom confused over billing and concerned for her community.
"I gave my insurance information and filled out paperwork on medical history," explains Porter. "My daughter was quickly treated by the on-site doctor. We were in and out in 10-15 minutes."
The three-year-old did not need stitches but the doctor sealed the gash in her forehead with liquid surgical glue and then covered it with a gauze.
"Upon check-out we were told to pay $120 which we did and went on our way. We took our daughter to Target for a toy and put the trauma behind us."
Porter says her daughter is fine now, "The wound has healed. God is good."
Almost $3K in Bills
"One month later I received two separate bills," Porter recalls. "One for a $913 doctor fee, and one for a $1834 ER fee."
Porter called the First Choice Emergency Room to get an itemized listing explaining the charges. She was given a list with numbers and medical jargon that she didn't understand.
"They aren't willing to explain these charges to me," says Porter. "We have been charged $2,747 for a Band-aid!"
The $3,000 bandage. Photo credit: Megan Porter.
Poor Reviews Mount
"This is absurd," says Porter. "I have since been researching this facility and have found hundreds of negative reviews with the same type situations as mine."
In a review on Google, one woman urges residents to not attend the facility: "They literally checked my husband’s blood pressure and listened to his breathing and came in with a bill for $692 no exaggeration."
Another patient, Peggy Mosher, vented on the First Choice Emergency Room Katy's Facebook page saying that she called and verified before services that First Choice Emergency Room accepted her insurance. Later she got a bill and letter from her insurance saying that the facility was out of network.
"Now Katy is large city with many emergency rooms and I had many choices of places I could have visited," states Mosher in her review. "I picked First Choice because they told me twice that they accepted my insurance. I feel very betrayed by First Choice ER."
Texas Government to Take Action
"This really raises alarms about free-standing emergency rooms," says Porter. "A while ago my daughter experienced a febrile seizure and we went to the emergency room at Texas Children's West Campus. We were there a long time and saw multiple doctors. Our bill from that experience was a fraction of the price from this Band-aid."
Porter adds, "I worry that a lot of residents aren't full aware of the costs involved in going to a freestanding emergency room vs. urgent care, etc. I know that I didn't."
Porter raises valid concerns and the Texas Government is working to combat the price gouging and patient confusion that countless Texas residents have experienced. Ten years ago, Texas became the first state to license and allow independent freestanding emergency rooms. These facilities are not connected to hospitals, and present like urgent care facilities. The evidence of them eluding pricing information, and billing out of network, and huge service rates has inspired legislation that will soon help those who need their services.
Bill to Require Freestanding ER's to Clearly Disclose Pricing
One bill will soon require free-standing emergency room clinics to clearly disclose how they bill and any potential fees and charges that patients can expect. While this will help many, it's too late for the Porters.
Texas Department of Insurance Reviewing Katy Family's Case
The Porters have reached out to the Texas Department of Insurance board and they have agreed to review their case with First Choice Emergency Room.
"Our account with them has been frozen for the time being and there will be litigation," explains Porter. "We hope that our experience can serve as a warning for other families.
What to Ask When Visiting an Emergency Care Facility
Do you bill as an ER or an urgent care?
Do you accept my insurance?
Will you bill in or out of network?
What kind of billing could I expect for my services?
If a free standing ER, do you offer the same services as a regular ER?
No Response from First Choice ER
Katy Magazine reached out to First Choice Emergency Room of Katy as well as their corporate office and did not get a response. On their website, they describe themselves as being the nation's leading network of freestanding emergency rooms as well as the oldest and largest.
Katy residents who need an ER or urgent care go because of a health concern. Take care of your health but don't forget to ask questions and understand what you could expect in pricing.