Few people think about comparison shopping for emergency room visits because there is usually no time during the emergency to stop and look for prices. Consumer advocates suggest that you check around for pricing before you need it (laughing out loud is permitted here).
Let me tell you from first-hand experience that searching for prices requires a monumental effort when trying to do it over the phone, and sometimes it’s altogether impossible (no, none of this information is on the internet or in any brochures).
For those of you in the southern half of the Wasatch Front in Utah, here are the prices for an emergency room visit as of January, 2013. I spent upwards of 4 hours on the phone trying to get these.
Both Mountain View and Timpanogos Regional give a 68% discount (!) to cash payers (so pay early if at all possible). Here’s the full data set for ER visits.
Now here are the caveats:
- Prices change at least annually (IHC claims to update prices every November), and sometimes quarterly. I had an ER visit to one of the IHC hospitals last year. The IHC list price went from $591 a year ago to $675 for level 3, and from $984 to $1,050 for level 4.
- If you pay the cash rate, you can’t apply your payment toward your deductible if you’re insured.
- Yes, the cash price can sometimes be lower than what an insurance carrier can negotiate for you. Last year I paid $239 for a level 3 ER visit, _with insurance_. This year you could get a lower rate than that at Timpanogos Regional without insurance.
- These are also just the charges for the ER visit. Physician fees, imaging, medications, etc., are all additional costs, and they vary with each visit. But charges for the visit alone are standard for everyone at the same facility. So for example, in addition to my insurance-adjusted $239 for the level 3 visit in January, 2012, the physician charged $177, which came to $132 with my insurance.
I’d love to hear from anyone with other data, such as what your insurance carriers charge, or pricing for other facilities in your area.
Pricing Healthcare is creating a site that will provide this kind of pricing data (and much more) online, for every area in the country.
If data like this is useful to you, we are looking for early adopters to help us build what we all need but cannot find anywhere. You can sign up to join the Healthcare Pricing revolution at PricingHealthcare.com and track our progress via facebook, twitter, google+, or linkedIn.