Urgent care centers have in large part been applauded for their recent growth and ability to provide affordable, convenient, and professional healthcare services. They’ve taken some of the load off of crowded doctor’s offices and hospital rooms and usually do so in a way that’s ultimately cheaper and quicker for patients, especially.
Unfortunately, no industry is immune to loopholes and potentially deceitful practices, and the urgent care industry is no different. After some persuading from New York State Attorney General Eric Schneiderman, at least four urgent care providers have agreed to disclose more pricing, cost, and insurance information, according to the non-profit industry organization Kaiser Health News and multiple reports.
The move comes as the first real use of New York State’s new “surprise medical bill” law, which is viewed as one of the broadest in the country. There are approximately 6,800 urgent care centers in the U.S. that see an estimated three million patients a week. After multiple stories and numerous requests, Schneiderman decided it was time to demand more transparency from facilities that spring surprise bills and expenses on patients.
At the center of much of the debate is specific wording these urgent care providers use on their websites and during the payment process that many see as a deliberate attempt to confuse and mislead people. Many times they say that they “work with” or “accept” certain insurance, but do not say whether or not they are part of a particular insurers’ network. Instead of expenses being covered by their insurance companies, as many patients believe they are, they wind up with unforeseen bills.
Sometimes this is what’s known as a “balance bill,” as the person’s insurance company will pay a previously agreed upon portion of the charge that would be the total for in-network insurers, but the remaining balance is left for the unsuspecting patient, who was merely told their insurance company “works with” them.
As part of the agreement, the four urgent care providers will eliminate this ambiguous language from their content and specifically list all the in-network health plans they contract with.