Valdosta Daily Times

September 29, 2013

Don’t let the emergency room bill give you a heart attack

Trust me, you don’t want to go back!

Brittany D. McClure
The Valdosta Daily Times

-- — On Tuesday, I watched an incredibly informative segment on ABC News called “Real Money” by news reporter Paula Faris. It was about saving money on emergency-room bills. For most people, when it comes time to go to the emergency room, the last thing on your mind is saving money. However, anyone that has gone to the ER, even with insurance, knows that the bill can be a hefty one.

In the case of the woman in the segment, their bill was $8,000. The woman’s initial bill was not itemized and only had three figures on it. After the retrieval of an itemized bill, they found a whole slew of problems. She was charged $298.23 for a pregnancy test that normally costs $10 in a drug store. She was charged $800 for two tests that had been given by her doctor the previous day, and at her doctor’s office, the tests were only $75. The hospital also administered medication that the woman already had at home and then charged her 90 times higher than what she paid for the exact same drug. The woman also discovered, through the itemized bill, that she had been charged twice for the same test and charged for a test she was never given.

This sounds shocking, but it happens to people every day and not just people who go to the ER with near-death experiences. My last stint in the emergency room was a year ago. My doctor had diagnosed me with strep throat, and though my doctor had prescribed me medication, that night I took a turn for the worse. My nausea, fever and lowered heart rate left me with no choice but to go to the ER. After a few hours, some anti-nausea medicine and an IV of pain medication, I was left with a $1,500 bill ... And yes, I did have health insurance.

Since life has a tendency to happen, ERs are just a thing that most people will have to face at one point or another. However, there are some steps you can take to help lessen the blow of your visit and make sure you are not being over charged or charged incorrectly.

1. Have a medical bag handy

ABC’s Faris suggested that before an emergency strikes, have a prepared bag that contains your doctor records, allergies and current medications. The records are really important because it will allow the ER doctor to see what your physician has already tested you for, thus, allowing you to avoid unnecessary testing at an additional cost. Bringing your own medications (especially if you have pain medications) is important because then you are not paying 90 times more for something you already have. A tip from me, throw in a pregnancy test if you are a woman. Most

doctors give women pregnancy tests before they administer certain medications or tests, so why not pee on a $10 stick instead of a $300 one?

2. Document everything

Make sure you keep track of every test and every medication your doctor gives you. ERs can be hectic and most nurses and doctors are so over-worked, that they don’t have the time to explain everything to you like your regular doctor.

However, don’t let the hustle and bustle intimidate you. Ask the name of every test, every medicine, and every procedure. Keep note of it so when you get your bill, you can double-check that it is correct.

3. Always get an itemized bill

Do not ever pay a bill that is not itemized. An itemized bill breaks down every medicine, test, etc. If you don’t see that break down, there is no telling what you are paying for. Mistakes happen, and hospitals are a busy place run by humans who, believe it or not, do make mistakes. Also, even itemized bills are confusing, so don’t hesitate to call the hospital’s billing staff and have them go over your bill line-by-line. There is no such thing as too many questions.

4. An ambulance ride will not get you the red-carpet treatment

Some people think that if they call 911 and ride to the ER in an ambulance, that they will be seen immediately and not have to wait for hours. Newsflash, you will get triaged just like everyone else and if you’re not that sick or injured, you’re going to wait regardless. All you’re doing with that fancy, unnecessary ambulance ride is costing yourself more money. Ambulance rides usually cost somewhere between $400 and $1,200. Even if you have health insurance, it will cost you money. For example, some insurance only pays 80 percent of the cost, and only if you have met your deductible. Otherwise, you’re going to pay 100 percent of the bill.

5. If possible, go to an urgent-care facility

Sometimes, life throws you circumstances that cannot avoid the emergency room. However, if your matter is not life threatening, you are going to come out way cheaper at an urgent care facility. For example, gathered a list of estimated costs for the nine most common reasons people visit the ER. The data was from claims submitted in 2010 to the Medical Choice Network, a system of more than 4,000 medical offices, clinics and hospitals across the Midwestern U.S.

The study showed that a urinary tract infection costs $665 at the ER and only $110 at an urgent-care center. Have a sore throat? At an ER, that will cost $525, but at an urgent-care center, only $94. Let’s say your kid has pink eye. At the ER, that will cost you $370, but at an urgent-care facility, only $102. Bottom line, urgent care is substantially cheaper.

Well my dear budgeteers, hopefully you don’t have to use any of these tips anytime soon, but it never hurts to be prepared! Don’t forget to like me on Facebook at and follow me on Twitter @BudgetBrittany.