Hospitals emergency rooms throughout Atlanta and the rest of the country are adopting a new policy of charging patients $150 if they do not have an urgent problem. Last year, over 80,000 patients left emergency rooms owned by HCA Healthcare without receiving treatment after being told that they would have to pay as much as $150 first because their problems weren’t considered emergencies.
This screening method and upfront fee is being used by hospitals in an effort to ensure that the sickest people receive top priority. While those patients who do not require emergency care are given information they can use to find a more cost-effective and efficient form of care that meets their medical needs.
HCA leads the way with this pay-first strategy that is aimed at discouraging patients with nonemergency ailments from going to the emergency room after being screened. It is now estimated that half the hospitals in the US charge this fee to reduce overcrowding in emergency rooms. However, some doctors fear that patients in need of medical attention will do without treatment because of this fee.
The American College of Emergency Physicians and patient advocacy groups pan the idea, asserting that the initial emergency room fee puts a financial obstacle between the patient and treatment. But HCA makes exceptions to the new ER fee on behalf of children 6 years old and younger, patients who are 64 years old and over, and pregnant women.