State Barriers For Freestanding Emergency Centers Bad For Consumers, Bad For Healthcare

Freestanding emergency centers have expanded across the country at a rapid pace because they offer quick, convenient access to emergency care in a comfortable delivery setting. However, as the demand for FEC services increases, some state legislators are attempting to stop the growth of FECs through overregulation and anticompetitive legislation.

In Rhode Island, following the state’s licensing of two Neighbors Emergency Center applications for freestanding emergency centers, Senator Joshua Miller filed S2696 requiring all future freestanding emergency center proposals to be subject to a Health Department “certificate of need” review. This measure would require future FEC facilities to demonstrate that their medical services would not be harmful to existing hospitals and other medical facilities by offering duplicative services. If passed, this legislation would effectively discourage competition and halt any future development of freestanding emergency centers in Rhode Island.

Additionally, Colorado Representative Elizabeth McCann introduced HB 1374, which would have has increased transparency requirements for independent freestanding emergency centers, but not for hospital ERs. Furthermore, HB 1374 conflicts with the prudent layperson standard, which was created to protect patients that present at an emergency room. The bill did not pass, however there was a motion to develop a study that will examine whether or not legislation calling for a “certificate of need,” similar to Rhode Island’s, would be beneficial for the state.

NAFEC opposes states enacting harmful legislation and creating barriers to entry for freestanding emergency centers. This approach is not only anticompetitive, it hurts consumers in that state by limiting access to emergency care.

While we understand that supporters of this legislation are concerned with how the growth of freestanding emergency centers will affect existing hospital emergency rooms, it is also important to note that emergency room visits are on the rise following the Affordable Care Act. This has increased pressure being placed on traditional hospital ERs, creating long wait times and a rushed treatment process for patients. Freestanding emergency centers help to alleviate the pressure placed on traditional hospital ERs and provide a welcomed alternative for consumers who want quality emergency care without the wait or the hassle.

With a trend of rural hospital closures occurring across the country, many states are looking to FECs as a potential solution to a shortage of access to emergency care and are opening their doors to this innovative model. Yet, in states like Rhode Island and Colorado, legislatures are choosing to take a step backward and limit the emergency healthcare options available to their constituents.

FECs are a natural progression in healthcare delivery that leads to higher efficiency and increased satisfaction for both patients and physicians. With a number of states already embracing the freestanding emergency room model, more states should break down barriers and allow these facilities to provide community based emergency services to greatly improve healthcare quality. NAFEC hopes to work with state legislators and address their concerns in a way that promotes responsible growth of freestanding emergency centers in their state.