Steven Hofman: A visit to Steamboat’s new ER | SteamboatToday.com

Steven Hofman: A visit to Steamboat’s new ER

I did something recently that I wanted to do since our community's new ER facility opened. I stopped by the former Staples building to check the place out. It was well worth my time, and I encourage other local residents to do the same.

My motivation went beyond idol curiosity. I have nothing against the ER at the hospital. Being a full-time resident for over 10 years, I always found comfort in a nearby emergency medical facility, in addition to the hospital's other facilities. This hasn't changed just because of the new facility.

But generally speaking, as Econ. 101 rightly teaches, two of something is often better than one. This creates competition. And with competition, in emergency health services as well as other economic activities, increases in quality of service, modern and new equipment, innovative practices and lower prices is often seen.

Given what is going on in health care these days, particularly in rural communities like Steamboat where limited choices produce higher prices and higher health insurance rates, a second ER facility seems a welcomed development.

Last year, the average American family faced a deductible of $7,983. And as insurance premiums have increased, enrollment in high-deductible health plans has jumped as well.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, high-deductible plans now cover almost 30 percent of workers. These realities prove it is a myth that for most patients today insurance pays the actual bill for many of the kinds of expenses often resulting from non-catastrophic medicine, including ER-type services.

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So, what did I learn from my visit beyond seeing a new sign on an old building. After telling the front desk staff of my visit's purpose, which was anything but an emergency, I was introduced to one of the facility's ER physicians, Dr. Matt Freeman. I had a number of questions about services and pricing that he seemed happy to answer. And in the course of our conversation, he was kind enough to give me a brief tour of the facility.

My questions focused on services beyond standard ER care. Did they do blood testing? The answer was "yes." Could they do cardiac imaging? Again, the answer was yes.

I was particularly interested in the cost of such testing because a particular test I periodically require cost twice at the hospital what I paid when the same test was done at a Front Range facility. Like most Steamboat residents, I prefer to shop local. But even with insurance coverage, double the cost is tough to swallow.

Being on the eve of Medicare eligibility, I asked whether the center accepts Medicare patients. Dr. Freeman told me that owing to a Medicare rule that facilities such as his had to be institutionally connected to a hospital in order to accept Medicare, this was not possible at this time.

Neither he nor I understood the logic of such a rule. As a former federal government official, I told him I had seen this rodeo way too many times. Despite my experience-based reality check, he was hopeful that a workaround could soon be found.

I won't offer an opinion on the facility itself. I'm just a potential patient like most others, not an expert. But everything was new and fresh looking and seemed like what I was used to seeing in a typical high quality medical office or hospital. No surprises seemed a plus.

In the end, I came away thinking I was glad to learn some about our new ER facility before rather than during an emergency. It was like tasting the food before hiring the caterer. Not a necessary move. Yet a smart one if you want to enjoy your meal.

Steven Hofman

Steamboat Springs