ER-priced bills for minor medical care shocks 2 N. TX women

Some North Texas moms got rude awakenings after short visits for minor medical care at what they thought was a new neighborhood clinic.

Turns out, they got emergency room care and the bills to match.

Angela Ponce had a back spasm after running the Dallas Rock ‘n' Roll Half Marathon last month. She went to the Preston Hollow emergency room in Dallas at Central Expressway and Walnut Hill.

"Then the doctor came in after a little while, spent about five minutes with me, asked me about three questions and told him what was going on, and he gave me heavy narcotics," said Ponce.

Her back improved, but she says the real pain came a few weeks later, when she got the bill.

Ponce received one for $510 -- after insurance. Additionally, there's still another bill from the physician on the way, which she's told will be several hundred dollars.

The total cost is in the neighborhood of $1,000.

"I wasn't going to pay it and I wanted to know why," said Ponce.

Kelly Belknap had a similar surprise when she visited the same facility in December with a dog bite on her finger.

She was bandaged, not given any stitches and sent home.

"I showed my husband," said Belknap. "I'm like, ‘Look at this bill. It's two things, $1,600.' He's like, ‘That's ridiculous.' Then I got a second bill for the doctor and that was $400. So a wound that they didn't even stitch, that they just cleaned out, literally, was $2,000."

Jennifer Lanza is the director of operations for Preston Hollow Emergency Room.

"The signage clearly indicates that we are an emergency room," she said.

Lanza says it's up to consumers to know the differences between stand-alone emergency rooms, which are on the rise, and urgent care clinics.

"By our regulations, we have to have certain things available on-site 24 hours a day," she said.

That means ER-certified doctors and nurses all day, every day, plus on site X-ray and ultrasound equipment and the ability to do CAT scans.

"We are not out here to rip you off," said Lanza. "You came here because you thought you had an emergency, so we treated you."

Lanza says their rates are emergency room rates and are consistent with similar facilities.

"A lot of these free-standing ERs are popping up…I don't have specific numbers, but we should be comparable within the market," said Lanza.

Lanza says the ER does warn patients in the "consent for treatment" forms that it is a freestanding emergency room, not an urgent care clinic, and will be considered out of network unless the patient is deemed to have a true medical emergency.

Both patients FOX 4 talked to say they've reached out to the facility requesting a price reduction.

Lanza says they do work with patients on that in some cases to make it more affordable.

The bottom line is that if the stand-alone facility says "emergency room," then it's equipped to handle more serious cases and may not be the best place for minor medical issues when it comes to cost.    

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