Urgent Care Clinic, Freestanding Emergency Center or ER? Don’t Waste Money by Selecting the Wrong Treatment Facility.

As the volume increases on conversation surrounding rising health care expenses, both employees and employers are taking a central role in Health Care Cost Containment efforts.  From the living room to the boardroom, cost containment has become the buzz word with legs, driving meaningful action among the medical community, employers and the insured to lower health care related expenses.

Cost Containment is defined as the business practice of maintaining expenses within predetermined limits to prevent unnecessary spending or thoughtfully reducing expenses to improve profitability without damaging quality or new business development. In short, cost containment = cost control. Within health care, cost containment points to strategies implemented at the insurer, employer and/or employee levels that lower health related expenses.  Common practices including $0 co-pay incentives, out of network penalties,  employee wellness, and rewards programs fall underneath this umbrella.

Of course, healthy living and preventative health care practices are the obvious solution for reducing health care costs (and a primary reason many companies are switching to Lifestyle Health Plans).  While this is an optimal solution, we all know that such changes do not take place overnight. In the meantime, there are other actions that your company and insured group can take to use your health care resources more efficiently, helping to reduce and even eliminate unnecessary health care spending.  For this blog, we are examining emergency medical care for cost containment.

While it can be difficult to budget for medical emergency care, understanding your options and insurance billing practices can help keep the financial bleeding to a minimum. Below we have broken down the major differences between common emergency care treatment choices, urgent care clinic, free standing emergency centers and Hospital ERs.

Urgent Care Clinics: An urgent care clinic is an outpatient treatment clinics that treat minor illnesses and injuries.  They are not equipped to handle life threatening conditions such as severe bleeding or problems with breathing.

  • Less expensive of the 3 options
  • Walk-ins Welcome with Minimal Wait Time
  • X-ray available
  • Can treat:
    • Sprains/Strains
    • (closed fractures)
    • Lacerations
    • Abscess
    • Incision and drainage
    • Cold/Cough
    • Acute Sinusitis
  • Extended Hours/Weekends
  • Typically open 7 days a week
  • Fees range from $150-250
  • Some accept Medicare and private insurance
  • No facility fee (ER and free standing ER charge an extra facility fee)
  • Insurance, cash pay options
  • Lower Urgent Care Co-Pay for insured patients

Free Standing Emergency Centers:   A free standing emergency center is a facility licensed by the state to provide 24-hour emergency services to patients at the same level as a hospital-based emergency room. It is not attached to a hospital, and therefore cannot handle true emergencies. These facilities typically offer great accommodations, top tier health services and plenty of amenities at a premium price point.  These facilities are also known to charge fees like hospital ERs.

  • Accept private insurance ONLY
  • Do not accept Medicaid or Medicare
  • Insurance companies may not pay for non-emergent conditions
  • Open 24/7
  • Minimal wait time compared to ER
  • CT, Ultrasound and X-ray available like a hospital ER
  • Full lab on premises
  • Board Certified Physicians
  • Will see children of any ages
  • Higher ER co-pay for insured patients
  • If admission to hospital is needed Free Standing ER will transfer you by ambulance to the nearest hospital of your choice
  • Treatment of emergency conditions:
    • Abdominal Pain
    • Chest Pain
    • Serious Infections
    • Dehydration
    • And non-emergent issues







  • Most Expensive Option
  • Long waits due to overcrowding
  • Facility fee-can be $1000 or more
  • Insurance companies may not pay for non-emergent conditions
  • Can treat Traumas and heart attacks
  • Need admission to the hospital
  • Open 24/7
  • Specialty services available
  • Accept Medicaid/Medicare
  • May see a physician, Nurse Practitioner or Physicians Assistant
  • Higher ER co-pay for insured patients

Knowing your available options for emergency medical care, and understanding your plans’ policies pertaining to billing, penalties and incentives for use of each is the best way to curtail unnecessary health expenses in this department.  For example, why incur expensive ER fees or waste an entire day at the hospital waiting to be seen for a sprained ankle, when you could be treated quickly and at a cheaper cost at your neighborhood urgent care clinic.

As with most topics we discuss on our blog, the solution is rooted in empowering your group with information.  In working with a Healthy Benefits Administrator, we can provide your organization with the information and education needed to implement health care cost containment successfully.  Contact us today to learn more.