Woman’s $12,000 bee sting shows ER visits getting pricier

March 19, 2018

When Sylvia Rosas was stung by a bee in her Florida yard in 2015, she went to the emergency room since she had experienced allergic reactions in the past and didn’t have an EpiPen on hand.

But when she got the $12,000 bill, which included thousands in blood work and an EKG during visit of less than two hours, she was shocked. And since her hospital was out of network, 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.”

Her bill is not out-of-the-ordinary. Spending on an emergency room visit rose to $1,917, on average, in 2016, up more than 31 percent 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 bill patients separately.

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

Experts say one reason for the soaring coast is that ERs are seeing more patients who have severe medical problems. 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.