AUSTIN (Nexstar) — For the first time, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services is recognizing freestanding emergency rooms during the COVID-19 pandemic.

While freestanding ERs around the state were already treating patients on Medicare or Medicaid, the facilities were not reimbursed by the federal government for the cost of care.

Texas Emergency Care Centers CEO Rhonda Sandel said the facilities have been absorbing those costs for years. Sandel explained the recognition from CMS will make it more clear these patients are welcome at the freestanding facilities during the COVID-19 outbreak.

“Those patients now know that they can come to our facilities without any worry about their care. And it simply means that we will get reimbursed for the services we provide and the resources that we utilize,” Sandel explained.

Sandel said in some rural areas, freestanding emergency centers are the only health care facility available in a 50-mile radius.

The temporary waiver meant to help during the public health emergency received bipartisan support.

In a letter written by Representative Jodey Arrington, 14 members of Congress from Texas signed:

  • Sen. Ted Cruz (R)
  • Rep. Brian Babin, D.D.S. (R)
  • Rep. Louie Gohmert (R)
  • Rep. Michael Cloud (R)
  • Rep. Vicente Gonzalez (D)
  • Rep. Dan Crenshaw (R)
  • Rep. Kenny Marchant (R)
  • Rep. K. Michael Conaway (R)
  • Rep. Chip Roy (R)
  • Rep. Henry Cuellar (D)
  • Rep. Van Taylor (R)
  • Rep. Lizzie Fletcher (D)
  • Rep. Randy K. Weber (R)

In order to be recognized, CMS said freestanding ERs have three options.

Freestanding emergency centers can become affiliated with a Medicare/Medicaid-certified hospital under the temporary expansion 1135 emergency waiver, can participate under the clinic benefit if permitted by the state, or enroll temporarily as its own Medicare/Medicaid-certified hospital to provide hospital services.

“We will be applying as, under the temporary hospital license, which is option number three. And it allows us to apply, we do it through the hotline, and it gives us a temporary provider license as a hospital,” Sanel added. “Option number one is you could join forces with the hospital and become a part of their system and applied that way for Medicare recognition.”

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Centers for Medicare and Medicaid temporarily recognize freestanding ERs during COVID-19 pandemic –