Hurricane Harvey area patients struggle to get ER care as law prohibits Medicare coverage

After the only hospital in Aransas County (Texas) closed due to Hurricane Harvey damage, patients looked to freestanding emergency rooms to provide care. However, federal law prohibits these facilities from accepting Medicaid or Medicare, leaving many patients with few care options, according to a KRIS report.

Over a thousand patients sought care at Rockport, Texas-based Code 3 Emergency Room during the month after the storm, which made landfall along the middle Texas coast Aug. 25, 2017.  

"We've now taken on an entire area of the coast of Texas here that doesn't have access to an emergency room other than us," said Carrie de Moor, MD, CEO of Code 3 Emergency Room. Since federal law prohibits Code 3 ER's Medicaid or Medicare patients from using insurance at the facility's stand alone ERs, the facility cannot get reimbursed.

Although patients can either pay out of pocket or seek care at a different another facility, Texas law requires Code 3 physicians to provide care if a patient's life is at risk.

"We take care of them, we stabilize them, we call a helicopter. They get paid for it, but we don't, for doing all the care up to it including calling the helicopter," said Justin Hensley, MD, medical director of Code 3 ER.

The lack of coverage can also lead to life-threatening situations, Dr. Hensley added. If a Medicaid or Medicare patient calls 911 and ambulance will not bring them to a closer stand alone ER, they may have to delay treatment and travel to a farther care facility.

The physicians are working with Congress members to receive disaster funds for treating Medicaid and Medicare patients. "No business can survive if you're not getting compensated for 70 percent of your business," Dr. de Moor said. "We need that assistance to make sure people in this county still have access to care that they deserve."

Read about Texas hospitals' emergency response to Hurricane Harvey here

More articles on EDs: 
Colorado lawmakers propose bill to curb surprise freestanding ER costs
Alaska ACEP urges lawmakers to stop bill that would alter ER payment rules
San Diego County to spend $22M on ER care for homeless: 6 things to know

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