Reps. Arrington, Gonzalez Introduce Bipartisan Emergency Care Improvement Act

This week, Representative Jodey Arrington (TX-19) and Representative Vicente Gonzalez (TX-34) introduced bipartisan legislation in the U.S. House of Representatives to permanently expand access to emergency medical care for Medicare, Tricare and Medicaid beneficiaries.

Many freestanding emergency centers (FECs) have been providing care to Medicare beneficiaries since the beginning of the pandemic under a temporary program established by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Unless the statute is updated to provide permanent recognition, these beneficiaries will lose coverage at FECs in May, when President Biden officially terminates the Public Health Emergency.

"Over the past three years since Medicare began recognizing Freestanding Emergency Centers, millions of seniors in Texas have benefitted from increased access to emergency care. Unfortunately, the care these facilities provide — often at a lower cost to the Medicare program than most hospital-based ERs — will disappear for thousands of seniors if something isn't done prior to the Public Health Emergency ending on May 11. The Emergency Care Improvement Act will allow seniors to continue utilizing low-cost, high-quality FECs, spurring much-needed competition in our healthcare system," said Rep. Arrington.

“A person’s access to high quality health care should not be determined by their home address,” said Rep. Gonzalez. “This bipartisan piece of legislation ensures Medicare, Tricare and Medicaid beneficiaries may access the high-quality medical treatment provided by free standing emergency centers - expanding access and lowering cost for South Texans and patients across the country,”

ACEP President Christopher Kang, MD, FACEP, commended Rep. Arrington for his efforts on this issue.

“Patients and communities need and deserve reasonable access to emergency care 24 hours a day, 7 days a week, 365 days a year, no matter their means or where they are,” said Dr. Kang. “ACEP sincerely thanks Rep. Arrington and Rep. Gonzalez for their vision and bipartisan leadership for reintroducing the Emergency Care Improvement Act so that patients and communities continue to have access to freestanding emergency centers and the wide range of acute and potentially lifesaving emergency care they provide.”

NAFEC President Rob Morris recognized Rep. Arrington for his leadership.

“FECs are an essential part of our nation’s healthcare system, providing high-quality, cost-effective care to patients whose lives are in peril,” said Morris. “Without access to the emergency care FECs provide, patients will suffer and lives will be lost. We are grateful for Rep. Arrington’s leadership in expanding access to quality emergency care for all Americans.”

Background on the Legislation:

  • FECs are fully licensed emergency departments that are staffed by both Emergency Medicine trained physicians and registered nurses who are on-site 24 hours a day, seven days a week and possess licensed pharmacies, clinical labs, and advanced imaging services. FECs are state-licensed and adhere to the same standards and provide the same level of care as Hospital Based Emergency Rooms (HBER), including state Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) regulations on treating all patients.
  • To expand provider capacity during the COVID-19 pandemic, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) issued a waiver in April 2020 to allow FECs to enroll as Medicare-certified hospitals and receive Medicare reimbursement for the duration of the Public Health Emergency.
  • Over 110 FECs, mostly located in Texas, enrolled and have been providing high-quality emergency services for all kinds of emergency conditions, at a significant savings to the Medicare program, to thousands of Medicare beneficiaries.
  • An actuarial study of Medicare claims data found that FECs did not increase overall utilization of emergency care services and actually saved Medicare programs 21.8% in lower emergency care payments for patients of similar acuity in hospital emergency departments.

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