The Emergency: Head Injury
The Bill: $9,000
A few months ago, Amanda Harris, 27, of Morristown, N.J., fainted at work, hitting her head in the process. Due to liability concerns, her production company required Harris to take an ambulance to the emergency room, despite her refusal. “I didn’t even have a cut on my head, just a slight bump. No headache, no nausea, no confusion, nothing,” she says.
Harris waited for over an hour in the E.R. before her husband told the nurse that they were leaving. Minutes later, a doctor spoke to Harris for under a minute, confirming that she was fine to go. “He didn’t do any tests—no light in my eyes, no blood pressure,” says Harris. “I left thinking I wouldn’t even get a bill.”
But the bill did come—all $9,000 of it. The ambulance company charged $6,500, including a $300 fee for the linens and a $30 charge for aspirin. The E.R. billed the remaining $2,500. “My mouth literally dropped open when I saw the cost,” she says.
What This Patient Did: Harris called her insurer and fought the bill. Luckily, her insurance covered all but a $3,000 deductible—but she was too exhausted to push for more. “I’ve always heard emergency room visits were costly, but $9,000 for nothing more than a conversation that lasted one minute? That’s robbery,” she says.
What the Expert Says: Even though Harris didn’t want to take an ambulance, Salters says that her company’s suggestion was well-advised. “However, she should consider working with her employer to file the claim with her company’s worker’s compensation carrier,” says Salters. “Employers often try to stay away from filing a claim under worker’s compensation, so it does not impact their experience rating or trigger an [occupational safety and health administration] review, but it would save her money.”
How You Can Avoid Outrageous E.R. Bills (Really!)
When it comes to a trip to the E.R., the reality is that there’s usually no time to shop around and compare prices in advance. But if you do some research before an emergency happens, you could potentially keep costs significantly down.
Consider Urgent Care for True Non-Emergencies
If your medical problem isn’t life-threatening (think sprains, minor cuts and fevers), you can visit an urgent care center instead. An Annals of Internal Medicine study found that the average urgent care visit from 2005 and 2006 cost $156—compared with $570 for the same visit to an emergency room.
RELATED: Why an E.R. Visit Could Bankrupt You
Double-Check Your Bill
Hospital billing systems aren’t perfect, so it’s wise to keep track of any treatments that you receive in the E.R.—including time spent in the operating room, which can cost up to $200 a minute! To prevent billing mistakes, ask for an itemized statement before you’re discharged, so you can compare it with your own record-keeping.
Negotiate Your Health Care Costs
Most importantly, don’t be shy when it comes to bargaining. Two excellent resources—Healthcare Blue Book and FAIR Health—can give you estimates of how much health care services should cost in your area. Plus, your insurer’s website may also provide a tool that will allow you to compare costs.
The negotiation can seem like a lot of extra work, but the payoff can be tens of thousands of dollars in savings shaved off a potentially outrageous E.R. bill.