When Terri Curtis' 6-year-old son recently injured his leg while skiing, she decided to take him to the new Physicians Urgent Care at Beardsley Avenue and Johnson Street in Elkhart.
Curtis had seen my Dec. 14 article about the clinic's opening, in which I had paraphrased a clinic official saying that "urgent care centers allow the patient to avoid high hospital charges and long waiting times associated with an emergency room visit ..."
She says when she asked about pricing, she was told they could not give her a price. Instead they handed her a price sheet labeled, "HOW MUCH DOES IT COST?" Curtis says the highest care level listed was $225 but she was told the price could be a little higher if it fell outside this care level. They could not tell her how much higher.
Curtis says her bill wound up being $1,176, with no breakdown of the charges. The services provided were two X-rays and a velcro splint put on by a physician's assistant.
Cindy Donohoe, spokeswoman for Physicians Urgent Care, said federal patient privacy laws prohibit her from commenting on Curtis' son's case. But speaking generally, she noted that the price sheet stipulates, with an asterisk and in italicized print, that, "Additional charges may apply due to complication or unforseen (sic) circumstance, such as: complex procedures (like broken bones, dislocations or extensive lacerations), outside lab tests, vaccines, medications, injectables, physical therapy, supplies or equipment. Level of care is determined by Physicians Urgent Care."
"We're trying very hard in a complex industry to be transparent with our pricing," Donohoe said. "Ninety-plus percent of our cases are covered by these care levels."
Curtis says neither the wait time nor the price were much less than a hospital emergency room.
"At least at the ER I get an itemized breakdown of what I am paying for," she said.
Donohoe said patients should always receive an itemized list of charges upon discharge. She encouraged Curtis to contact the company.
Curtis says she was told to contact the billing department for a breakdown of the charges, and she is in the process of doing that.
"I feel that I was taken advantage of at a time when I was vulnerable," she said, "and in an urgent situation with my son."
UPDATE: Curtis says she is now pleased with how Physicians Urgent Care has handled her complaint about its pricing.
The company's compliance offiicer has agreed to reduce the charge to $275, factoring in the cost of the boot.
"They said they are planning on making several changes due to our situation, and are glad that we pursued the issue so that they could be made aware of the changes that need to be made," Curtis said. "I am so thankful for their willingness to listen and deal with the problem."
Donohoe said going forward, the clinic plans to reinforce with its medical teams that they should make every effort to keep patients apprised of treatment recommendations and associated costs during the exam. It also plans to review its self-pay pricing for the most complex procedures, such as broken bones and extensive lacerations, to ensure patients continue to receive quality care at an affordable price.
"We're happy that the patient is recovering well and we were able to respond quickly to the family's concerns," Donohoe said.