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Critics: No Credit Card, No Health Care Treatment

September 9, 2018

FITCHBURG -- By the time Tami Arguelles arrived at CareWell Urgent Care, the muscle pains her 10-year-old son was experiencing had worsened so much that he was having trouble breathing.

They had just rushed over from Coolidge Park. It was May and they were at one of Nicholas Arguelles’ regular street hockey practices. Everything was normal until he started saying his chest hurt. Thinking it was just an ordinary muscle pain, Arguelles brought him to CareWell’s nearby John Fitch Highway location.

“While we were in the waiting room, a woman asked me for my ID, insurance card, and a major credit card. While I’m trying to pull all of this out of my purse, my son keeps saying he’s having trouble breathing,” she said. “I was told I couldn’t see anyone until I gave them a credit card.”

Arguelles didn’t have one. So CareWell was unable to treat her son.

Arguelles and her son left CareWell and drove to the urgent care center at UMass Memorial Health Care’s Burbank Campus where they didn’t need a credit or debit card to get in. It turned out Arguelles’ son was having his first ever asthma attack.

“I will never understand what transpired there,” Arguelles said of her experience at CareWell. “What I do know is people in our community won’t be able to be treated there.”

The requirement for patients to produce a credit or debit card before being treated has been the subject of criticism in the months following UMass Memorial Health Care’s announcement that it’s planning to close its Burbank Campus urgent care center.

If the closure goes through, area residents will only have three urgent care centers to choose from, only two of which -- Leominster Urgent Care and MedExpress -- accept patients without having a credit card on file.

According to a statement released by CareWell, requiring patients be able to leave a “credit card on file” is a “common practice in the health care industry.” The company’s website also explains that the policy is to guarantee payment for services that might not be completely covered by insurance and that it was implemented as a result of patients not always paying their balances.

“We understand that most of our patients pay their balances in a timely manner,” the website reads. “Unfortunately, this is not always the case, and neglected balances for services already rendered affect the cost of health care for all.”

CareWell is partially owned by UMass Memorial through a joint venture, but its other facility, Leominster Urgent Care, does not employ the same credit card practice.

According to a statement provided by UMass Memorial, there are “no plans at this time to add this as a requirement” at Leominster Urgent Care. The statement also pointed out that patients can also present debit or HSA cards to get treatment at CareWell.

However, UMass Memorial Health Care declined a request to respond to recent criticisms of CareWell’s practices from members of the Massachusetts Nurses’ Association and from members of the public during last month’s Department of Public Health-sponsored forum on the pending closures.

Though Fitchburg resident Tiara Taylour does have a credit card, she said she was denied treatment at CareWell last month after she left her card at home.

“I’ve heard about this whole credit card issue before, but I was surprised because I’ve been to plenty of other urgent cares before and have never been asked for that,” she said.

Fitchburg resident Eric Becker said he lives within walking distance of UMass Memorial’s Burbank Campus and is a frequent patient of the urgent care there. If it closes, he said he would have to take a bus to seek care elsewhere and that CareWell is the next closest option.

However, he said he’s afraid he will be turned away because he has yet to pay off all of his credit card debt.

“This just seems really callous to me,” he said. “A lot of the people I live near don’t even have these cards so I know they won’t even be able to consider going there.”

Follow Peter Jasinski on Twitter @PeterJasinski53

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