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Mississippi hospital latest to charge upfront fees at emergency room

According to HFMA, 50 percent of American hospitals are now charging upfront fees for non-emergency visits to the emergency room.

Beth Jones Sanborn, Managing Editor

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Memorial Hospital at Gulfport in Mississippi will be requiring non-emergent patients who insist on being seen in the emergency room to pay their copay or a $200 deposit toward the cost of care before receiving treatment, the system said. The policy, which takes effect Nov. 1, is just the latest example of hospitals charging at EDs in an effort to slow the rate on non-urgent care in emergency rooms.

ER physicians will determine whether patients qualify as emergency status, or if they can be redirected to a walk-in clinic. Those non-emergent patients will be given information on Memorial Walk-In Clinic locations, as well as other urgent care facilities. Should they still ask to be seen in the ED, the copay or fee will be collected first, the system said.

[Also: Suburban poor, uninsured turn to emergency rooms for care]

The new policy part of an effort to relieve congestion and better serve patients who present with a genuine acute care emergency, the system said.

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"Memorial is the only Level II Trauma Center serving Harrison, Hancock, and Jackson counties.  To provide the best care possible, we must make sure we have the staff and space available to treat emergency patients," said Gary Marchand, Memorial's president and CEO.

Memorial's ED patient volume tops out around 6,000 patients a month, with a quarter of those being non-urgent patients that could be served in a less costly walk-in clinic.

The system said that in the past decade ER inpatient admissions have spiked from 9,000 a year to 13,000 a year.

"We must have staff and space available in the ER to treat our most acute patients," the system said.

It's a growing trend, according to the Healthcare Financial Management Association, who said 50 percent of American hospitals are now charging upfront fees for non-emergency visits to the ED. Not only does it clear congestion in the ED, it can also serve to stem the bleeding from a hospital's bottom line from bad debt due to unpaid bills and inadequate reimbursement from government payers.

Twitter: @BethJSanborn
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