Pat Ferrier, Coloradoan.

A private, freestanding emergency department in the works for more than three years is back on the front burner in south Fort Collins.

Fort Collins Emergency Center, 4858 S. College Ave., developed by Dr. Henry Higgins, would be the first emergency center in Loveland and Fort Collins not owned by UCHealth or Banner Health. When it opens, it could face new transparency guidelines working their way through the Colorado General Assembly.

FCEC owner Higgins, of Texas, first proposed the center in 2015, but plans went dormant until last month, when Higgins requested a minor change to the building design, which the city is reviewing. 

According to Higgins, the center would be open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and have a CT scanner, X-ray and full lab services. It would treat any patient regardless of ability to pay and would accept private insurance, Higgins said. 

It would also have a “concierge” option, which Higgins calls “revolutionary.”

For $139 per month, patients could go to FCEC for a set number of visits per year, he said. 

Even though the health-care industry drills into us that the emergency room is the most expensive place to receive treatment, “there are a large portion of people who use the emergency department as a primary source of care,” he said. “They don’t even have primary care doctors.

“This is an innovative thing we are doing that recognizes the fact that people like to use the emergency department as primary care,” Higgins said. 

“It’s just an option,” he said. “We will be a traditional emergency center that treats anyone coming in the door.” 

Higgins implemented the model at his emergency centers in Austin, Texas, and said they have become a popular option. “In a lot of ways it is going against the grain of what the industry wants consumers to do,” he said. “We look at what the community wants, and we try to provide it. We know they love the convenience of freestanding emergency departments.”

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, which dictates payment for federal health programs, doesn’t recognize physician-owned emergency facilities and won’t reimburse FCES for treating its patients. Higgins said in a 2016 interview FCEC would end up “treating a lot of those folks for free.” 

The private emergency center would be in addition to Poudre Valley Hospital, Medical Center of the Rockies, a freestanding emergency center run by UCHealth, McKee Medical Center in Loveland and Banner Fort Collins Medical Center’s emergency department off Harmony Road.

Freestanding emergency rooms are licensed differently than ERs at hospitals and do not have to meet the same standards, according to Colorado Consumer Health Initiative, or CCHI.

While freestanding facilities provide emergency medical care, they sometimes do not provide services for critical conditions such as trauma, stroke and heart attacks; do not receive ambulances; or may not have an operating room on site, CCHI said. This can delay life-saving care if the facility is not equipped to treat a consumer’s condition.

Senate Bill 146, sponsored by Fort Collins Democrat John Kefalas, would require these facilities to provide consumers with basic notification about higher charges for care in non-emergency situations. 

“Coloradans have unexpectedly ended up with inflated medical bills because the average cost of treating common, non-emergent conditions at freestanding ERs often charge up to 20 times more than physician offices or urgent care centers,” said Adam Fox, director of Strategic Engagement of CCHI, in a statement. “We need to ensure consumers know what they are walking in to at the freestanding ERs.” 

The bill is among a package of bills addressing challenges facing patients at freestanding emergency rooms. 

HB 1212, “Freestanding Emergency Rooms Licensure,” will bring the expected standards of FSERs up to par with other emergency departments.

“This bill would create a new licensing structure that would hold freestanding ERs to the same standards as traditional emergency rooms,” said Caitlin Westerson, policy manager of CCHI, in a statement. “This is what consumers expect when they go to an ’emergency room’ so this bill will increase consistency and the quality of care at FSERs while protecting consumers.”

SB 146 and HB 1212 now head to the House Finance Committee.

See the original article here