Don't let the bill make you sicker

Reducing the Cost of an ER Visit

by Debra Karplus

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You've recently had your annual physical. All your labs look good and you are feeling great. That's all wonderful news. Now is the perfect time to carefully scrutinize your health insurance policy or phone their customer service number and inquire so that you know which hospital is the preferred provider should you or a family member ever need to visit the emergency room. This simple task could save you hundreds of dollars or possibly more if you are proactive instead of waiting until there is some sort of medical crisis within your household.

Many health insurance policies give a discounted rate if you use one of their preferred providers. That includes emergency room services. And depending upon what type of coverage you have, your insurance company may cover eighty percent of the bill, leaving you to pay the remaining twenty percent. Know in advance what to expect.

How do you know when to go to ER?

Some folks have never used the ER. Others seem to end up in ER all the time. You wonder if they are sicklier or simply unaware of what sorts of maladies require immediate attention opposed to those that can wait. Sometimes it will be obvious, such as chest pains or a severe injury, but many times it's difficult to determine the severity of the condition.

First, if you can, call your doctor or his after-hours number if his office is closed and ask them what they recommend you do. Your doctor will help determine if your situation may be life-threatening and warrants a trip to the emergency room. ER visits will always cost you much more than a visit to your physician's office, but don't lose your perspective; your overall health and safety is the number one concern.

And just in case you might possibly be admitted to the hospital, pack a small overnight bag. Include all necessary identification, tooth paste, tooth brush and bring all prescriptions that you take. It will take away some of the stress of your ER experience.

You need to peruse your ER bill very carefully.

The first time you or a family member end up in the emergency room, you might be a bit surprised to receive several different bills, and not necessarily at the same time. The hospital will send you their bill. The ER physician charges separately for their services. And if you use additional services such as x-rays, those, too, are billed as a separate entity. As you would with any bill, be sure that you are charged only for services you actually received. You can request a more detailed itemized bill to help sort through these charges. Don't pay for any charges until you are certain that they are correct.

Avoid using an ambulance if you possibly can.

The least expensive and most practical ride to the emergency room is with you in the passenger seat of the car of a helpful family member or friend. You could drive yourself, but you may be in ER longer than you think or possibly even be admitted to the hospital. If someone else drives you there and can stay with you, you avoid the worry of legally parking your car while at the hospital.

If an ambulance ride seems medically necessary, your insurance policy will probably pick up the tab on some of it. According to the United States General Accounting Office, depending on where you live, the number of miles to the ER, and any additional services you need en route such as oxygen, a short trip to ER could cost anywhere from $400 to $2400. It's definitely not a cheap ride!

Are you one of the many people heading for debt trouble without knowing it? This simple checklist can help you find out and tell you how to avoid it.

There are cheaper ways to receive non-emergency care when your doctor's office is closed.

Many communities have walk-in clinics that are affiliated with health care facilities. These convenient care centers are open to anyone, not just their regular patients. They typically have longer hours than a regular physician, including evening, weekends, and holidays. Convenient care centers are usually staffed by physicians, physician's assistants, nurse practitioners, and registered nurses. They are equipped to treat common conditions, such as urinary tract infections, strep throat, or insect stings, for example. These conditions may make you feel horrible, but are generally easily treated with an appropriate prescription or injection.

By keeping yourself in excellent health, you are not likely to ever need an ER visit. However, sometimes unexpected things do happen despite being the careful person that you are, so be sure to know what to do in case you might ever need to visit the ER.

Reviewed July 2017

Debra is an occupational therapist, accountant, teacher and freelance writer. She is a writer for Advance for Occupational Therapy Practitioners. She also writes for Grand Magazine, has some items (fiction and non fiction) selling on (kindle), has written several travel articles for the Champaign-Urbana News-Gazette and several articles for and volunteers as a money mentor for the University of Illinois Cooperative Extension money mentoring program. Learn more about her at

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