High Price Emergency Care Can Be Dressed as Urgent Care


While cycling one recent Saturday, I was bitten on my lower left leg by a neighborhood dog. This German shepherd never liked me or my zippy road bike, but this time I was riding up a hill in a slow and vulnerable state. The bite was a bit painful and produced a small amount of blood, but I managed to get through the ride. Later, after prompting from family members, I decided it prudent to visit a healthcare provider to get the bite checked out and treated, and get any shots, if needed. After a quick web search for urgent care providers, I decided on Complete Care in Colorado Springs with a seemingly attractive, though mundane description: “Complete Care is an urgent care facility conveniently located in Colorado Springs, CO, equipped to manage all varieties of urgent care services for all ages”

Upon arrival, I filled in the necessary paperwork and took a seat. The waiting time was less than 10 minutes, and before long, I was in the exam room with a nurse taking vitals. A few minutes into the visit, the front desk administrator popped her head in to inform me that this visit would be considered “emergent care” instead of "urgent care". I was stunned, and asked how that could be the case for such a minor injury. I was thinking that my health insurance probably wouldn’t cover emergent care charges if the condition were not an emergency.  And, as many of you know, there is a rapid escalation of pricing based on urgency of care, with urgent care costing a bit over $300 for a typical visit, but emergency care costing 4-5 times as much ($1200-$1500). I was facing a potentially large emergency care bill.

I recalled my paperwork indicating that emergent care would be indicated based on the severity of the injury. The administrator pointed out the “fine print”, which I’ve highlighted below.


Yes, they just threw in a subtle escalator based on “business hours”, and didn’t bother to mention this on the web site or during check-in. The facility actually switches over from urgent care to emergent care at 5 PM on Saturday. In retrospect and upon a closer look at the outdoor signage, the facility does support both emergent and urgent care.

Fortunately, the nurse was very understanding of the potential financial impact. She had a discussion with the attending physician, and they both explained the situation to me, giving me the option to continue or not. Given that the wound was small, and that I had applied antibacterial cream shortly after the incident, the consensus was that I was likely OK to defer treatment to an Urgent Care facility the following day (Sunday). The nurse even cleaned and dressed the wound for no charge! It clear these providers were committed to great care at reasonable cost, even if the business management was a bit opaque on the pricing policy.

On Sunday, I proceeded to an Urgent Care facility, and the story had a happy ending with no economic surprises.

The lesson here is that you should take a moment to understand your insurance benefits and what your out-of-pocket costs are for off-hours care. Plan ahead to determine which nearby facility you or your family member should go to, if the need arises. Don’t wait until you need care for something like a dog bite, or more seriously, a real emergency.

Kirstan Vandersluis