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How Does an ER Charge You?

Updated: Aug 18, 2023

You can rack up a huge medical bill just for walking into an ER and registering at the front desk. It doesn’t matter whether you were saved from the brink of death, just got your finger bandaged, or didn’t get any treatment at all.

Emergency care bills are one of the most outrageous medical bills in the U.S healthcare system. ER facilities charge patients just for emergency room visits, even if no care or minimal care was provided. Hospitals claim that it’s a necessary standard charge that helps them keep their emergency room open 24/7.

Unfortunately, patients are often left liable for a good portion of the bill especially when the insurance carrier deems the service as non-emergent care. While hospitals are required to post some planned in advance service standard charges online as of January 1, 2021, trips to the emergency room aren't typically included.

ER facilities bill patients for medical care based on the level of emergency care received. This is classified from level 1 to 5; level 1 being routine or minor care and level 5 being complex care for life-threatening conditions.

However, this emergency care classification is subjective, depending on how the facility codes the level of care. A Health Care Cost Institute study found that hospitals use the most severe and higher-priced classification to code ER visit billings.

This means that minor care can be incorrectly classified as complex care. Say you get a small cut on your finger, which should be classified at a relatively low level of care but could be wrongly coded at a higher level of emergency care. What does this mean for you? An outrageous bill.

Tips to Prevent Excessive ER Medical Bills

With the No Surprises Bill taking effect on January 1, 2022, you may get a modicum of protection against outrageous emergency care bills. However, here are some tips to prevent getting slammed with an excessive ER bill.

1. Think Twice Before Visiting the ER

Take a personal assessment of your health condition. Do you really have to consult a healthcare professional immediately - at the emergency room? If your condition is relatively low level, you should consider waiting until you get an appointment with your primary care physician or consider a retail health clinic or walk-in doctor's office.

2. Consider Urgent Care Facilities

Urgent care is not the same as the emergency room, and it’s relatively cheaper. Better if you can find one that’s not attached to a hospital. What’s more, you’re likely to get cost effective treatment in urgent care facilities for minor conditions compared to the ER.

3. Ask Questions

When you visit the ER, make sure you ask questions about the facility’s standard fee before completing the paperwork and signing off for financial responsibility. Also, in non-life-threatening situations, you should ask your ER if you can put off tests until you can see your primary care physician.

ER Charges Bottom Line

ER facilities can charge you (excessively) just for registering to receive care. So, make sure that you need emergency care before visiting one. If you’re currently battling an outrageous ER medical bill, you can schedule an MBCR consultation to figure out your options.

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