Alert
Close

Top the Treasure Hunt leaderboard by 5 p.m. Friday to win a $100 gift card! Learn more

AARP Bulletin

Emergency Room Costs Vary Greatly For Common Outpatient Conditions, Study Finds

En español l As important as the emergency room is in the nation's health care system, consumers know very little about how medical charges are calculated or the size of the bills they face, according to a study by a team of researchers at the University of California, San Francisco.

Subscribe to the AARP Health Newsletter

Woman with sling around arm with dollars, Costs for ER visits

Reduce the risk of sticker shock after an emergency room visit: Ask for an itemized bill. — Alex Nabaum

"There's no blue book for health care costs," says senior author Renee Hsia, M.D., whose team studied 8,303 emergency room visits by adults 18 to 64 from 2006 to 2008. The study, published in the journal PLOS ONE, spotlighted the 10 most common outpatient conditions (ranging from pregnancy to open wounds) and found giant price differences. Here, a few examples:

  • Headache: $15 to $17,797
  • Kidney stone: $128 to $39,408
  • Strains and sprains: $4 to $24,110
  • Upper respiratory infection: $19 to $17,421
  • Urinary tract infection: $50 to $73,002

Causes for the disparity in charges were not examined, though earlier studies cited by the authors highlighted location and differences in reimbursement methods. Uninsured patients were charged the lowest median price ($1,178), followed by those with private insurance ($1,245) and Medicaid ($1,305).

While patients with true emergencies such as heart attacks and strokes have little choice, there are occasions when patients can reduce the risk of financial surprise by asking questions. Hsia's advice if you must pay for an ER visit: Always ask for an itemized bill. And if you try to negotiate the costs, you might just succeed.

Topic Alerts

You can get weekly email alerts on the topics below. Just click “Follow.”

Manage Alerts

Processing

Please wait...

progress bar, please wait

Video Extra

SAFE HOSPITALS: What is Virginia Mason Medical Center doing to prevent hospital errors?

Tell Us WhatYou Think

Please leave your comment below.

your
health

Discounts & Benefits

From companies that meet the high standards of service and quality set by AARP.

Woman trying on glasses in optometrists shop

Members save up to 60% off eye exams and 30% off eyeglasses at Pearle Vision.

Prescription medication spilling out of bottle

Members get a free Rx card from AARP® Prescription Discounts provided by Catamaran.

AARP/Walgreens Wellness Bus Stops in Clarksdale, MS

Members can get exclusive points offers from Walgreens and Duane Reade.

Caregiving walking

Caregiving can be a lonely journey, but AARP offers resources that can help.

Most Popular
Articles

Viewed

feature
groups

Social Security

How to strengthen Social Security for future generations. Discuss

Medicare & Insurance

Share health coverage information and experiences common to being age 50+. Join

Health Nuts

Share heart-smart recipes, fitness tips and stress relievers. Join