Tampa urgent care pricing: useful or useless?
An office visit: $162. A hip X-ray: $60. Your total urgent care bill? Go figure. A state law that took effect in July requires urgent care clinics to post cash prices for their 50 most common services.
But providers’ reactions remain mixed. Some say it just causes more confusion, even as some patients applaud the move toward increased openness in medical pricing.
“I would be very suspicious of any business that basically said: ‘Trust me,’ when it comes to costs, especially one that deals with people who are vulnerable and maybe desperate, such as those who are sick and injured,” says Lisa Ryland, an Angie’s List member who recently took her grown son to a highly rated Fast Track Urgent Care in Tampa, Fla., for a sore throat.
But Mark Muller, a physician assistant and owner of StatMed Urgent Care Centers, including a highly rated Clearwater, Fla., location, contends the pricing board is useless to the consumer. “It’s a big farce,” he says. “It did nothing but cause more confusion.” For example, Muller explains a visit for an ankle fracture might start at $162, StatMed’s posted price for a Level 3 acuity visit.
But add an X-ray, splint, medication and crutches, and the cost could balloon to $800 or more with complicating factors like diabetes or high blood pressure. The board lists X-rays at $52, but not the other costs. Muller argues posted prices also puts StatMed at a disadvantage because it provides more complex care than typical urgent care centers, which costs more.
Other providers take a more ambivalent view. “Any time patients have visibility in pricing, it’s a good thing,” says Dr. Bryan Stuchell, co-founder and chief medical officer at Morgantown, W. Va.,- based MedExpress Urgent Care, which operates nine centers in the Tampa area. Still, he recommends taking cost information with a grain of salt.
“With medical prices there are a lot of nuances,” Stuchell says. A patient paying cash for a rapid strep test sees the $50 posted price, but may not consider the added cost for a medical evaluation, which starts at $135 for a new patient, he says.
Insurance companies often pay lower negotiated rates, Stuchell adds. The reduced rates also apply for patients with high deductible plans paying out of pocket. “If they’re out of network and we don’t have a contract with the insurer, posted prices would be correct,” he says. MedExpress contracts with most major insurers.
Hospital-owned urgent care centers that share a license with their hospital skirt the new requirement, but a bill under review by a state legislative subcommittee at press time could close that loophole. Retail clinics that treat simple ailments like earaches but don’t provide complex, urgent care already fall under the purview of the 2011 law, though they led the way on posting prices for common services.
“We’re already doing it and have been doing it nationwide,” says Brent Burkhardt, a spokesman for industry leader MinuteClinic, which has 10 locations in CVS stores in the Tampa Bay region, including one highly rated clinic in Clearwater. “So there’s no surprises at the end.”