AUSTIN (KXAN) — Free-standing emergency rooms are requesting a waiver to care for patients without emergencies, saying it will drive down the cost of taking a COVID-19 test.
The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers wrote a letter to Health and Human Services Executive Commissioner Cecile Young, reporting that ERs are seeing a huge demand for testing.
Freestanding ERs are licensed and regulated by the state of Texas. Regulations require anyone receiving treatment at these locations to be processed as an emergency patient.
“If HHSC allowed FEMCs to provide outpatient or non-emergent services, we could protect these responsible, proactive citizens in their efforts to protect themselves and others,” the letter reads.
KXAN previously highlighted patients who have gone to freestanding ERs to get a COVID-19 test, only to get an expensive bill later.
Dr. Daniel Roe practices at two Complete Care locations in the Austin area. The emergency rooms don’t do drive-up testing or test patients who are asymptomatic.
“We’re required by law only to evaluate patients that have an emergency complaint,” he said.
But that would no longer be the case if HHS grants the waiver request.
Roe explained freestanding ERs will often charge fees for an emergency visit. We’ve seen this even when patients have taken drive-through tests.
He said allowing outpatient services would likely bring down these kind of fees, because these non-emergency patients wouldn’t need the attention of a doctor.
“If we’re allowed to provide outpatient testing, whether it’s coronavirus or other testing, we can do that at a much lower overhead and provide at a much deeper level,” he said.
A spokesperson with Texas Health and Human Services tells us the department received the letter and is “looking into the questions.”