Action News Jax Investigates: Sticker shock when going to an ER vs. urgent care

Healthcare sticker shock: Families surprised by prices at smaller emergency rooms


Freestanding emergency rooms have been popping up all over Jacksonville, but the convenience comes with a price you may not expect.

“My son, Nicholas, was playing outside and split his chin open,” said father Steve Sharpe, whose wife took Nicholas Sharpe, 9, to the closest urgent care on County Road 210 that turned out to be closed.

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She then drove to Race Track Road and pulled in where she saw a sign that said, “Emergency.”

“It does say emergency on the side,” said Sharpe. “It’s just a building on the side of the road.”

But it’s not just a building.

It’s a freestanding emergency room owned by Memorial that’s a lot more expensive than an urgent care.

His wife also missed signs inside that warn, “It’s not an urgent care,” with another stating, “It’s considered an emergency room visit my most insurance companies.”

It was a costly mistake.

The bill from Memorial that Sharpe sent Ben Becker showed his son received four stitches and topical lidocaine. The total — before his insurance carrier paid for it — was nearly $7,000. And after insurance, the sum was about $1,500.

Becker called another urgent care location and found out a similar procedure would have cost around $300.

“So how do you get transparency to find out what you are going to pay before the procedure,” Becker asked Dr. Sunil Joshi, who is president of the Duval County Medical Society Foundation.

“That’s a difficult question,” said Joshi. “You would probably be in a better position to get that information from health insurance company than hospital because insurance company knows what the negotiated rate is.”

Becker wanted to get some more answers from Memorial about what leads to price difference and received the following statement:

“There is a big difference between the care provided at an ER and the care provided at an urgent care clinic. An ER is open 24/7 to treat the most serious medical emergencies - heart attacks, strokes, head injuries and severe illnesses. It is always staffed by specially trained emergency doctors, nurses and has a lab and imaging on-site. An urgent care clinic provides quality care for your day-to-day medical needs - and is not required by law to treat all patients.”

“Insurance companies control how much their members pay for the different levels of care that are available. Our charity care programs support uninsured patients,” it added.

Becker checked all over Jacksonville to find out how many freestanding ERs are in the area:

Memorial — Three: Julington Creek, Atlantic Boulevard at Kernan and Mandarin.

Baptist — Four: Northside, Fleming Island, Town Center and Oakleaf.

Ascension St Vincent’s — Two: Arlington and Westside.

Sharpe said the experience cuts deep.

“I have some friends that said they would have done it for $150. They have a needle and thread and would do it for a lot cheaper,” joked Sharpe. “I don’t think mom would have liked that,” responded Becker. “No, mom would not have liked that,” said Sharpe.

If you want to reduce your medical bills, some experts say pay cash upfront and forgo using your insurance. In addition, press your health care provider for the so-called real price.

Finally, you can try visiting your primary care doctor as well.