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How to Reduce the Cost of Emergency Room Visits

May 04, 2017 3 min read John Renz


Emergency room costs can be shocking. When you need immediate medical attention, the last thing on your mind may be money, but it will be the first thing on your mind when the bill comes. There are ways you can limit the amount you spend on emergency room visits. Consider your options.


Choose the right facility for your condition

Not every trip to the emergency room is necessary. In fact, a 2010 study conducted by the New England Health Institute points out that 56% of emergency room visits are "totally avoidable." One alternative to emergency rooms is the urgent care clinic. Much like ERs, urgent care facilities operate on a walk-in basis. These two types of emergency medical facilities have a lot in common, but they differ greatly in how much they cost. The emergency room is always your most costly option.


Common reasons for going to an emergency room

The basic rule of thumb with regard to an ER is that it is designed to be utilized in times of serious medical distress. ERs are open 24 hours a day, seven days a week and are equipped to handle life-threatening medical situations. According to the Centers for Disease Control, 136.3 million people visited the ER in 2012. Some of the most common reasons for visiting the ER are due to the following:

  • Chest pain
  • Skin infections, rashes, and abnormal skin reactions
  • Cuts and contusions
  • Respiratory issues, including trouble breathing and serious coughing
  • High fever
  • Toothaches
  • Foreign objects in the body
  • Back pain
  • Headaches and migraines
  • Abdominal pain


Reasons to visit an urgent care facility

On the other hand, urgent care clinics are not meant to handle life-threatening, medical emergency situations. They provide care when medical issues arise that cannot wait for an appointment with a primary care physician, but do not rise to the level of an emergency. Urgent care facilities typically have extended hours starting with early mornings and going into late evenings. Some examples of common reasons for visiting an urgent care clinic are as follows:

  • Minor cuts
  • Earaches
  • Toothaches
  • Sprains
  • Rashes
  • Fever


ER costs vs. urgent care facility costs

As you can see, some of the reasons people go to urgent care clinics are identical to reasons they go to an emergency room. In these instances, the difference is not care, but cost. According to Medica Choice Network, the expense to treat a sore throat in an ER (in 2010) is about $525 versus just $94 at an urgent care facility.


Your options for reducing costs when you must go to the ER

If your condition amounts to a true emergency, visits to an ER can end up costing much more than an urgent care clinic. One reason is that the medical issue may require the ER staff to conduct tests on a patient such as MRIs or lab tests, take X-rays, or perform complicated procedures. Insurance may not cover these procedures when they are performed on an emergency basis.

You can make emergency care costs more affordable by:

  • Talking to the billing department about negotiating your bill amount
  • Asking for a payment plan
  • Taking advantage of financial aid programs
  • Crowdfunding the medical expenses
  • Itemizing the bill to make sure all fees accounted are legitimate


Additional insurance that can offset costs for emergency care

There are supplemental insurance policies that can assist with medical emergency costs. These include:

  • Accident Insurance - helps with accidents that require emergency medical attention
  • Critical Illness Insurance - assists with expenses incurred during a serious illness

You can buy these insurance policies on your own, but they can be pricey. A more affordable option is to purchase these through your employer, union, or professional association, many of which offer these types of insurance as an optional benefit at reduced rates.


Bottom Line

If you have a medical situation that requires emergency attention, consider your choices. The ER, urgent care facility, or your primary care physician are options you can choose from, depending on the severity of your emergency medical condition. And, because medical care can be pricey, it is advisable to inquire about payment options and make sure you protect yourself with adequate health and other related insurance coverage. The main goal is to find ways to protect yourself against a financial emergency as well as a medical emergency.


John Renz is a writer focusing on topics related to finance and insurance. He’s also a husband, father, brother, uncle, and son, but doesn’t really make much money at those jobs.


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