A temporary federal designation allowed freestanding ERs recently to accept Medicare and Medicaid during the COVID-19 pandemic, but not all local emergency centers have qualified.
Altus Emergency Center Lake Jackson began temporarily allowing Medicare and Medicaid April 24, after the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services allowed it, according to a news release.
This allowance is not predicting an increase in COVID-19 cases, said Kevin Herrington, Altus Emergency Centers president and board member for state and national associations for freestanding emergency centers. Regardless, is a great preventative effort, he said.
“More so, it is signaling that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services recognize the freestanding emergency center’s ability and role in the public health emergency,” Herrington said in an email. “It also ensures that Medicare patients have the ability to seek care at alternate sites.”
The changes should last as long as the public health emergency is in place, Herrington said.
“Our hope is that the CMS recognition will be permanent, since we have been working with Congress for the last three years on this need,” Herrington said. “For them to allow this temporary waiver is a step in the right direction to serve the Medicare populations.”
U.S. Rep. Jodey Arrington wrote a letter Centers to Medicare & Medicaid Services encouraging the designation for freestanding ERs, according to the release. Freestanding emergency centers’ recognition as Medicare and Medicaid-approved healthcare facilities will increase capacity to the overall healthcare system and alleviate overcrowding in hospitals, the release states.
Other Brazoria County area emergency centers are actively applying for the temporary allowance, including Angleton ER.
The facility hopes to accept Medicare and Medicaid in the near future, Angleton ER Owner Dr. Keegan Massey said.
“Right now, the government won’t recognize us as an emergency medical room, so, until a change takes place, we cannot accept Medicare or Medicaid,” Massey said. “We would love to take Medicare or Medicaid.”
Angleton ER is in the process of applying for the allowance, he said. For those who apply and qualify, the order will allow the freestanding emergency centers to temporarily be legally categorized as emergency rooms.
“We are submitting an application through CMS, and we are just waiting to hear back from them to see if we are accepted as a temporary emergency room,” Massey said. “Hopefully, sooner than later.”
He believes this is especially beneficial during the pandemic, as disadvantaged patients are forced to use a payment plan.
“We can only set up payment plans, but we strive to set up a reasonable payment plan if they are willing to be seen with us,” Massey said.
The application may process in a week or a couple of months, Massey said, and he is unsure of how long it will take to apply.
“Once the application goes through, it will cover testing and treatment so anyone using Medicare or Medicaid is safely covered,” Massey said.
Brazoria County emergency rooms should experience some relief with the update applying to Altus in Lake Jackson, Herrington said.
He has been a part of a lobbying effort to have freestanding ERs allowing Medicare and Medicaid.
“For three years, we have been going to D.C. to explain to Congress what a freestanding ER is, and how these updates could benefit everyone,” Herrington said.
Freestanding ERs have been licensed medical facilities in Texas for about a decade, he said.
“So, on a Texas level, we are recognized, but on a federal level, we just haven’t been on their radar about who we are and what we can provide,” Herrington said.
All freestanding ERs combined, he said, are strategically located and contain an equivalent of 1,500 beds.
“We have a significant footprint in the medical industry,” Herrington said. “While the waiver allows temporary recognition to allow Medicare, what we are hoping for is that this is a permanent fix.”
The Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers worked with U.S. Rep. Randy Weber, R-Friendswood, and other members of congress to get the temporary designation.
“You have to attest that you meet certain criteria, including four specific areas, and those are related to nursing services, inspection control, respiratory services and pharmacy,” Herrington said. “What we were lobbying for was a full recognition of services, but we got temporary, which was a good start.”