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How Much Does a Trip To The Emergency Room Cost?

Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba
Image: Freedigitalphotos.net/ddpavumba

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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64 Comments

  1. I’ve said it before and I’ll say it again. I thank my lucky stars for Canada’s universal healthcare. I cannot imagine the stress of deciding when I can afford to go to a doctor. It blows my mind actually. I had a week long hospital stay in a private room with my own nursing staff and ONGYN for an emergency cesarean…my total out of pocket was $0. There was a $50 fee for the cable my husband insisted on having so we could watch summer Olympics/stanley cup playoffs but this was a hospital bill which my husbands work insurance covered. Yes I likely pay higher taxes and understand it’s not ”free” but I’ve never known any different and no amount of money could possibly come close to the ease I feel knowing for the rest of my aging life my healthcare is taken care of (outside of rx costs which we have insurance for).

    1. I sometimes really envy the Canadian system. Ours really isn’t that great despite all the huffing and puffing people do whenever the talk of a universal system comes up.

  2. Ambulance fees are ludicrous as well, although one would think that they would be lower because of the urgency relayed by the use of an ambulance. I suppose this discourages inappropriate use, though.

  3. Thanks for linking to my Urgent Care post. Your ER is cheaper than ours. I’ve never had an ER visit for that price, and you had the Urgent Care in that total, too!
    Contracted prices are a thing of beauty and a source of amazement for me. I have some dental work that needs to be done and full price was over $6000 dollars. But then they input my dental insurance, the cost dropped by HALF and that was before they deducted the amount the insurance will pay (50% copay for non-preventive care).

    I will absolutely admit to skipping doctors visits because of cost. Because we have a high-deductible plan, we would basically pay out of pocket for non-preventive care for anything short of a hospitalization. So doctor visists tend to be reserved for being REALLY sick instead of just a little sick.
    HDHC plans are supposed to reduce medical costs by making people more responsible for the costs of their medical care. But I think they do the opposite by forcing lower income people to go without care until the problem escalates and then costs more to fix.
    I think there should be a deductible that the insurance has to pay before your own deductible kicks in. Maybe insurance covers the first $1000, and then the patient’s deductible kicks in. This would make people more likely to get care while issues are still minor, but still force them to make responsible choices.

    1. Years ago, I had some sort of rider on my health plan that covered the first $1000 of an ER visit. It was only a few bucks a month to add it, but I haven’t seen anything like that available for a long time. I’m sure it would make people more likely to go in before things were a train wreck.

  4. I hope your little one is feeling better finally! I never think about the cost when I am sick, because I usually fight it off until I know I cannot make it to work. By then, I am so sick I just want to die in bed and hate driving and waiting for the dr. Just give me a shot already and a note so I can go die in bed lol.

    When I was getting ready to have surgery I thought about it all the time. That was different because I knew it was coming up but I never had an exact cost on it. It all worked out, because as a side-effect I was having was insomnia so I worked two jobs, instead of sleeping, to pay for it. In the end I came out ahead because I only had to pay something like $2000 for everything. I say don’t worry, when sick happens just go with the flow because you can only prevent so much.

    1. I’m kind of the same way. I wait until I am dying and then just want it better yesterday. One bonus of my recent dental surgery was that they put me on an oral antibiotic and steroid which cleared out a lingering sinus infection from my flu episode last month!

  5. I have pretty good health insurance, so I don’t think about the cost fully. I did have to go to the Urgent care two weeks ago and I was diagnosed with bronchitis. I still have it today, but it is getting better slowly. I did think about the cost before I went, but I needed the medicine. It is sad that others have to weigh their health based on how much they have in the bank.

    1. I know it happens all the time and it makes me really sad. I also see the other end at the clinic where I work. There is no charge if you are Native American, and people come in for any runny nose, ingrown toenail, or rash. I think there must be a happy medium somewhere.

  6. I was bit by a spider recently and we couldn’t track down the spider that did it, but I had a bit of a reaction, so we definitely considered our options if I needed care. Weekend, so dr office was closed. Urgent care probably wouldn’t have anti-venom if that was needed, so ER might be it…
    Luckily my uncle is an expert on these kinds of things so I called him, sent him a couple of pics of the bite and he said what to watch for/do. Turned out to be fine. The bite was mostly gone the next day.

    1. Wow, a spider expert in the family. I am terrified of spider bites. My Dad was bitten by a brown recluse once and he had to take some serious meds and it still left a big divot in his arm.

  7. I’m so sorry to hear that you and your daughter were ill and had to go through all of us. It’s not right how we have to debate whether our kids are sick enough to justify taking them to doctor or urgent care or even the ER. It’s a risk we shouldn’t have to take with our kids or even our own health. We have good healthcare coverage through my husband’s job, but we still have that moment’s pause where we decide if this warrants a visit to the doctor. I’m glad you’re feeling better and hope your daughter is in the mend too.

    1. I would certainly never go to the doctor for minor things. For one, it takes half a day, and it’s not a pleasant way to spend your time. I probably do wait a little too long sometimes, but this one went downhill fast. If I wasn’t sick as well, I might have stuck it out through the weekend, but sometimes you just need a professional to tell you what to do.

  8. I have (good) insurance and I think about costs too. I also have a Flexible Spending Account (FSA) which save me out of pocket money and taxes. I probably spend more in prescription drugs than office visits.

    1. The cost of things like prescription eyedrops always blows my mind, but I guess you have to have them sometimes.

  9. I’m so sorry your daughter was that sick and also passed some of that on to you. 🙁 But yes, I TOTALLY understand where you’re coming from. I’ve been dealing with the same thing with my shoulder. I think about EVERYTHING now when I go to the doctor and ask if certain tests are necessary. I mean my PCP was giving me a cholesterol check every year, but it’s always been great, so last year I said to please not do it because the lab processing costs me money. I never used to think like that. I have a high deductible as well and really hope I never meet it actually, because that would mean I spent a LOT of money. It’s unfortunate that we have to think this way now.

    1. Yes, I know. My doctor wanted to do lab work this year and I told her I’d wait until the health fair this month, where you can get lab work done really cheaply. It would be a couple of hundred dollars to do at the doctor’s office.

  10. I feel very lucky that we have great healthcare coverage, and as long as Cheryl works in the field, we will continue to have it. My beef with medicine is a different one: yesterday we waited an hour for the doctor beyond our appointment time. An hour! If I treated my clients the way many doctors treat their patients….I wouldn’t have any.

    1. I realize that sometimes patients run over, but they should have called and told you that before you showed up. Generally if a doctor consistently runs that late, they need to bring on another provider.

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