By Carrie de Moor, M.D., CEO
When Outdated Information Has the Potential to Cost Texans’ Their Lives
By Carrie de Moor, Code 3 Emergency Room and Urgent Care & Board Member, Texas Association of Freestanding Emergency Centers (TAFEC)
Everyone who lives anywhere near Rockport knows the long-lasting effects that Hurricane Harvey has had on our lives. It has changed the daily lives of long-time residents, business owners, families, and everyone who’s just trying to make a living in the region.
But in another way that locals may not think about until they are confronted with a medical emergency, the storm and its effects changed life for roughly 90,000 people in the region in a significant way. That’s because it forced the closure of the only hospital in Aransas Pass—Care Regional Medical Center.
While they waited on insurance money to cover their repairs, local patients were transported elsewhere so that they could receive the life-saving care they needed.
My ER and urgent care facility in Rockport is one of the places patients have sought care since the storm. In fact, it’s become a refuge of sorts as it’s the only access point to emergency care within a 30-mile radius. While we are meeting that need and will continue to do so, but here’s the startling thing: many area residents don’t necessarily know we’re there until they need us.
And the reason for that—particularly in a place so badly in need of emergency medical services—might surprise you.
But here’s the reality—several major insurance companies operating in the state do not keep their online provider directories up-to-date. “What is an online provider directory, you ask?” Very simply, it is supposed to be an online resource for all Texas consumers who are seeking medical care. When accurate and up-to-date, it can be a very helpful resource, even a life-saving one.
But here’s the problem when insurance companies don’t do their part to protect patient access to care (either through benign oversight or an intentional effort to mislead patients for the sake of their profits). As the administrator at Care Regional Medical Center (CRMC) put it months after Harvey made landfall: “We still have people coming to the door for services, and we have to send them on.”
What’s remarkable about that statement is the context around it. Consider what it means for patients to show up in need of the ER only to discover that it’s not even open. More remarkable—that quote is from a local news story in January of 2018. The reality is that the hospital has yet to reopen. And so that makes the actions of certain major health insurance companies even more egregious. We have examples of at least two of the nation’s largest insurers that operate in Texas listing Care Regional Medical Center as being open and operational nearly a year-and-a-half after Hurricane Harvey made landfall.
Perhaps just as troubling as listing a closed hospital as open and accepting patients is not listing at all emergency care facilities such as mine as being open at all. This kind of patient steering is dangerous and utterly responsible—and even more so when access to care is limited.
But believe it or not, that’s exactly what happened. Consider that for a moment—people in the Aransas Pass area now live in the equivalent of a food desert when it comes to ready access to ER care. And yet, we have insurance providers—whose legal, moral, and ethical responsibility is to their policyholders—misleading innocent people in what could arguably be considered as their greatest time of need.
When you’re having a life-threatening medical emergency, time is generally not on your side. In emergency medicine, we often say “time is tissue” and that “minutes matter.” All the more important then that locals searching for safe, reliable, and nearby ER care are able to locate it without delay or misleading information.
A loved one or patient in need should never be searching in vain for the closest emergency facility—particularly in a part of the world where there is already a dearth of access to ER care.
Our focus is always on the patient. And whether it’s Rockport, Killeen, Austin, Lubbock, El Paso, Wichita Falls or anywhere in between, when it comes to accessing emergency care, Texans need to know that they can rely on the information their insurance companies are providing them.
Where this potential “life or death” issue is concerned, we call on legislators, regulators, and the media to pay closer attention to what’s going on in their communities. Texans deserve better than to have insurance companies play roulette with their health and wellbeing.