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CNN Money: $12,000 for a bee sting? Emergency room visits get even pricier

$12,000 for a bee sting? Emergency room visits get even pricier
CNN Money
March 19, 2018

Sylvia Rosas decided to go to the emergency room after getting stung by a bee in her yard in Valrico, Florida. She had experienced allergic reactions in the past, but didn’t have an EpiPen on hand.
However, what really hurt was the $12,000 bill she received for the visit to the ER.

The 53-year-old said she was seen by several doctors, who ordered thousands of dollars in blood tests and an EKG during the 2015 visit that lasted less than two hours. Since the hospital was out of network, her insurer wouldn’t cover the visit, and she ended up having to pay the entire bill.

“Never did I think I’d have this type of a bill,” said Rosas, a mortgage loan officer who says she’s now hesitant to go to the doctor. “I was there for such a short time.”

Rosas isn’t the only one getting hit with big bills after a trip to the ER.

Spending on an emergency room visit rose to $1,917, on average, in 2016, up more than 31% from four years earlier, according to the Health Care Cost Institute, which analyzes spending and usage of nearly 40 million Americans with employer-sponsored coverage.

The spike in spending was driven almost entirely by an increase in the prices charged by hospitals, even as ER usage remained relatively flat. The spending covers the hospitals’ charges for stepping foot in the ER, known as a facility fee, as well as some tests and services. It doesn’t include ER evaluations by doctors, who usually send patients a separate bill.

Overall, the soaring price of ER visits, along with steep hikes in prescription drugs and outpatient surgery costs, have helped fuel a 15% increase in overall health care spending, the institute found.

There may be several reasons why it’s getting costlier to go to the emergency room, experts said.

The price hikes stem in part from the fact that ERs are seeing a greater number of patients with more severe medical problems, said Niall Brennan, the institute’s CEO.

Hospitals base their ER facility fee charge on the severity of the condition they are treating. Folks with simpler issues, such as cuts or fevers, are more often turning to urgent care centers or pharmacy clinics. So emergency rooms are more likely to receive patients with serious problems, such as chest pain or asthma attacks, which are more expensive to treat.

Also, more emergency rooms now have access to advanced — and pricey — technology, such as CT scans and MRIs, said Renee Hsia, professor of emergency medicine and health policy at the University of California, San Francisco. And patients expect to have more testing done in the ER rather than waiting to go to a lab or doctor’s office after they are discharged.

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