Freestanding ER Bill Shows How Price Has Been Disconnected from Service


The lesson of Susan Campbell’s WPRI story about one woman’s surprise bill from a “freestanding ER” business from which she received service may not be quite what’s intended:

“They gave me oxygen, they did chest X-rays, an EKG, and blood work,” [Elizabeth] Darling said.When she got to the ER, however, Darling overlooked a sign at the front desk, warning patients that Medicare and Medicaid are not accepted at the facility. She was billed more than $1,600.“I never would have stayed there,” Darling said. “I would have walked out that door, had I known.”

This may look bad — and we’ve been trained to see the word “gouging” between the lines of such stories — but it goes with my broader analysis: We’ve completely disconnected price from service.

Given her insistence that she would have gone elsewhere if she’d known her price of service, this woman could obviously have made it to another service provider that would have saved the system money.  Instead, within a system that ensures that the decision-making consumers don’t usually care about the price of services, she chose a high-cost option.

A great many people would do the same thing, because the way the government has manipulated our health care system, people not only don’t associate direct payments with services, we don’t even have a concept of what those services actually cost to provide.  It’s a system designed for waste.

  • Rhett Hardwick

    Several years ago, I took a woman, with a slight complaint, to the local emergency room. She emerged 4 hours later with a $5,000 bill. Recently it was suggested that I have some “tests”. Try as I might, I could not obtain a price from my doctor, the hospital, nor the woman operating the test equipment. Ten minutes in a $20,00 machine cost $1,400. Suppose I spent 20 minutes in a $20,000 Manhattan taxi?