How Much Does a Trip To The Emergency Room Cost?


With some planned and unplanned expenses, we’ve been racking up the medical bills for the past couple of months. While my husband has health insurance provided by his employer, my daughter and I have a high deductible health savings account eligible plan. While I still think this is the best plan for our needs, it really can be a hit if you do have to go to the doctor, even worse if you need to go to the emergency room. I know Chris at Stumble Forward and Greg at Club Thrifty have had similar issues recently. What is wrong with the picture when your kid needs to go to the emergency room and your first thought is, “Wow, this is going to be expensive!?!”

Sick Kid

Let me say that my daughter’s kindergarten year has awesome as far as illnesses. We’ve had a few coughs and sniffles, but she hadn’t missed a day of school until early March when she woke up with vomiting and diarrhea. She’s such a giving child that she passed that along to her Mommy. Luckily stomach bugs tend to pass quickly, and we seemed to be back in action after a couple of days.

 I recovered well, but she seemed to develop a cough and runny nose. I thought it was probably unrelated, and there was no fever, so I sent her back to school. She did OK for the rest of the week. I got a call the following week from school that she was pretty sick with a fever, cough, and pink eye (the bane of all school nurses!). No worries on the pink eye, but since she had been sort of sick for a couple of weeks and it seemed to be getting worse, I called her pediatrician’s office. As usual, they had no openings for acute visits. Seriously, nothing makes me more upset than a doctor’s office that won’t see sick people, but I do try to understand that you can only take so many appointments.

 Our next stop was urgent care. At this point, the little punk looked really rough with a snotty nose, terrible cough, and big red eye, but they gave her a popsicle while we waited that made it all better. I have to say that I was really impressed with the urgent care doctor. She told me it was probably the flu, likely unrelated to the stomach bug, but could also be a some sort of bronchitis. She asked if I wanted a lab test to rule out the flu so that she could give antibiotics. She said the test would cost about $100 if my insurance didn’t cover it. I’ve never had a medical doctor ask about cost before ordering or prescribing something.  I agreed to the test because I really wanted to see what was wrong. Sure enough, it was the flu (what happened to our flu shot?). We were sent home with instructions of Tylenol, fluids, and rest. This was Thursday.

Emergency Room?

 By Saturday, the little giver had passed the flu along to Mommy. Mom was definitely off her game with a fever and body aches, but even well Kim would have seen that my daughter’s cough was getting worse. We tried everything; honey, hot drinks, cold drinks, vap-o-rub, standing in the shower. Nothing helped. By 3PM, the cough was constant to the point that she was throwing up about 4 times an hour. The fact that she also was bawling her eyes out,  asking me to make the cough stop probably didn’t help. At that point, in my fevered haze, I decided we were going to the ER. Even if they had to sedate her, I had to MAKE THE %#!*ING COUGH STOP!.

 One hidden benefit of a small town is that the emergency room is never very full, so we got right in. They gave her an oral steroid and a nebulizer treatment right away. The cough was gone within about 30 minutes of arrival. Hallelujah! The doctor was concerned that she might have pneumonia, and if you could have seen how sick she was, it wasn’t an impossibility. They did a chest x-ray, which was negative. At that point, the doctor told us she did have bronchitis, along with the flu, and gave us a prescription for antibiotics and cough medicine that would make her sleep. (thank you doc!)

While I was incredibly relieved that we didn’t actually cough up a lung, I was worried about the bill. Even though we are more prepared for emergencies now than we have ever been, old thoughts from days when we whipped out the credit card popped up.  Honestly, at this point, we have quite a bit socked away in our HSA account. We were saving it for braces, but we can replenish before those are necessary. So how much was a visit to Urgent Care and then the ER?

Retail  Costs:

Urgent Care and Labs $217

ER Visit $1115

Drugs (steroid) $28

Radiology (chest X-ray) $152

Radiologist (to read chest X-ray) $54

 Respiratory (nebulizer) $92

 Take home prescriptions $76.06 ($45 was for the eye drop that I didn’t have a sample of, darn!)

Total cost to be sick: $1734.06

 Now, even though we have a high deductible and everything applies to that, I don’t have to pay this cost out of pocket. Because the providers we used accept assignment, our insurance company sets a  cap on how much they will pay for a service. Because of that, we get a discounted rate, which lowers the cost to $1308.51, almost a 25% discount. Whether you agree or not, those are the rules.

Since we will pay with HSA money, this will also save about another $327 in taxes.  If you have to pay any out of pocket costs for health care services or medicines, I strongly suggest looking into this type plan.

What if You Don’t Have Insurance?

If you don’t have insurance, you could be looking at full price. I know for a fact that our hospital offers a 30% discount if you pay all at once with a cash or a check. They also set up payment plans, but you lose the discount and get a penalty if you miss a payment. Not all hospitals will work with patients, so you could be forced to use credit or get sent to collections if you can’t pay. This amount is not likely to bankrupt anyone, but what if my daughter had been admitted for pneumonia or something worse? I think going without health insurance is just too much of a risk.

Finally,  it really makes me mad when I have to admit that I thought about costs and money before taking my sick kid to the emergency room. Honestly, I would have probably done the same thing, even if I knew it would have been $5000 or $10,000, but how many people have to weigh getting needed health care with how much money they have in the bank? I don’t have an answer, but I’m repeatedly reminded about the crazy cost of health care in the US, and right now, I’d rather my tax dollars go toward some sort of solution rather than funding things that do me no good.

Do you think about costs before going to the doctor?  Feel free to fire off your thoughts about insurance or health care.


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  1. I even work in healthcare and those costs shock me. My family has been fortunate that we’ve been very healthy lately, but I know that won’t last forever. I also have a high deductible plan with an HSA and I really like this method because of the tax savings and lower monthly premiums. I am in the same boat as you, I totally think about the costs before I go to the doctor. Most of the time I just wait it out (and suffer more than I need to) in order to avoid going to the doctor and having to pay. I’m glad to hear you are all back to being healthy, hopefully the bad luck is behind you!

  2. Great article Kim, I kind of wish my insurance plan was an HSA, at least I would have gotten the tax deductions. As far as the doctors office goes our doctor will not book any appointments until that morning. So if I need to go to the doctor I have to call them and make an appointment at 7:30 in the morning. However, like Holly mentioned above we think long and hard before we go to the doctor as well.

    As a final thought I want to mention, what is with kids giving their colds and flu to their parents. When my kids get sick I can do everything humanly possible to avoid catching what they have but I get it almost every time. I guess if it makes my kids feel better that’s OK but I’ve never understood how this always manages to happen.

    1. I don’t use this doctor now, but I had one once who did emergency visits on Wednesday from 8-noon, first come, first served. If you got sick on Thursday, you’re screwed. I guess that is the niche that urgent care fills and primary care is now more for chronic conditions that can be scheduled or well checks. I have been pretty lucky over the last few years to miss most of the sickness that hits our house, but I guess I made up for it this time.

  3. I know exactly where you’re coming from Kim, because we sadly have had the same thoughts about taking in a child due to possible costs. I hate to say that, but it’s honest. Thankfully we’re all pretty healthy and things like this have been far & few between for us. The costs are crazy and they only seem to be getting worse. Hope you both are doing better and on the mend.

  4. I might have gone back to the urgent care for a second visit. Given that they did the initial diagnosis, they certainly wouldn’t have sent her back a second time with just Tylenol and a recommendation to rest.

  5. Those costs are crazy, especially the ER. I was expecting something to the tune of the urgent care, not four digits. But like you say when your kid is sick there is no amount you wouldn’t spend. I have a post about the French healthcare system, the whole thing would have cost about $100. Good thing she isn’t sick often, I hope you are both feeling better!

    1. I would not mind paying taxes at all if I thought we could get some sort of functional universal health care.

  6. With the exchanges coming on board in January 2014, we thankfully won’t have to deal with people not having insurance (unless they choose not to, in which case they really should rethink their priorities since it’s subsidized based on income). I’m glad your daughter is okay, and I definitely can relate to the high costs involved in HSAs, but the tax savings are awesome -> “Since we will pay with HSA money, this will also save about another $327 in taxes.” Additionally, I am having surgery again (yay! not…) so I will be paying a HUGE bill in a couple months that covers my out of pocket max. Something like $3,500.

    1. You have to. We don’t have our whole deductible amount currently in our HSA account, but we do keep enough in there to cover things like this.

  7. It is interesting how much healthcare costs in the US and that the government doesn’t subsidize the cost. Having said that, in Australia they do subsidize the cost and everyone ends up paying far higher taxes because of it… I guess it all works out in the end.

    1. If you spend more than 7.5% of your income on health care expenses you are able to deduct that from your taxes in years past, but they are raising that percent this year, I believe. We would have to be really sick to get the deduction.

  8. I have health insurance so I usually don’t think about costs that much. I tend to think more about the complete inconvenience of going to a hospital that I don’t know my way around, having to fill out paperwork when I’m sick, etc.

    I’ve found that hospital bills are completely indecipherable. So I just wait until I get one that doesn’t say “this is not a bill” and pay that one. Then spend the rest of my time hoping that I paid the right one.

    1. I would make sure it seems like tests and services that were given. Tons of medical bills or how they are billed is wrong. Ask the billing department to look over it if it seems suspicious.

  9. Well, I do, but because I live in NZ it’s not a HUGE concern. I’ve learned quite a bit about our system in the past couple of years though due to T sustaining various injuries and other ailments. ER is free if it’s an accident (and we’ve been there, done that a few times). If there’s no accident (e.g. he apparently has tendonitis at the moment but there was no particular incident that it can be traced to) then it costs. This week we paid $15 for two prescriptions, $95 for an x-ray and $85 for the ER consultation.

    1. That’s interesting that it covers accidents, not illnesses. Sad to say you’d hope for the former over the latter if you had to go.

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