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Be Prepared: You May Spend More Money The Next Time You Visit the ER

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By Jen Kastner
NewsWest 9

ODESSA- If you've got a cough or the sniffles, you might want to think twice before rushing into Medical Center Hospital's Emergency Room. Starting this month, if you make an appearance there, they might ask you to take out your wallet.

J.R. Edmiston handles patient finance services.

"Patients presenting to the emergency room would receive a medical screening by a physician. The physician would then determine whether or not the patient had an emergency medical condition. If the patient was determined not to have an emergency condition at that point in time, they'd be asked to pay a deposit in order to continue to be treated in the ER," Edmiston said.

That deposit isn't cheap. The price tag is $250. However, they say that's a lot cheaper than what you'd normally pay after being seen in the emergency room.

"We took the average price at our urgent cares which ran at about $200. [We then recognized] that the ER average charge is roughly $800 to $1,000 so we certainly wanted to price that accordingly," Edmiston said.

However, the fee doesn't apply to those people with special medical conditions or anyone under 10 years old or over 60 years old. Also excluded are folks who are insured and will already be shelling out a hefty copay.

Staff says people need to learn how to use urgent care facilities and clinics.

"The issue that we sometimes face in the Emergency Department is that we have a lot of people that come here for their primary care," Dena Mikkonen, Divisional Director for Emergency Services, said.

When people do that, it bogs down the system, creating an overcrowded ER with long wait times. It's a growing trend in emergency rooms nationwide. Midland Memorial Hospital says they adopted a similar system a couple of years ago. Several of these hospitals say they're tired of losing millions of dollars in unpaid ER bills.

However, there are critics, including some of the doctors at the American College of Emergency Physicians. They say it discourages the sick from seeking help.

Dr. Arlo Weltge with the ACEP says, "Part of this is a reflection of, I hate to call it this, but of a dysfunctional healthcare system. But the hospitals are trying to not only legitimately stay in business but many times make money." 

He says there's proof emergency rooms get more true emergencies than we may think.

"Right now, the Center for Disease Control says 92% of emergency visits are from very sick patients that need care within one minute to two hours," Weltge said.

So far, Medical Center Hospital says in the couple of weeks the fee has been in place, nobody has paid it. Everyone has sought care elsewhere.