Virtually no one plans a trip to the emergency room. Sometimes people end up there without even realizing it. One minute you're going about your life and the next thing you know, you're in a hospital bed with an IV in your arm because you apparently fell and hit your head.
While you were out, thousands of dollars' worth of medical tests and treatments were conducted that you're financially responsible for -- particularly the providers who are not in your health insurance network. First responders are going to take you to the closest facility. Their job is to save your life -- not to worry about your medical bills.
Even if you're able to check to make sure that the hospital that you or a loved one is going to in an emergency is in your network, that doesn't mean the physician who takes care of you is.
One recent study found that people who go to in-network ERs are treated by out-of-network doctors. These can run into the thousands of dollars.
If you have a high deductible in order to lower your premiums, as many people do, the cost can be significant. If a specialist, such as an orthopedist, sees you, it can be even higher. Then there's the price of the ambulance that took you to the hospital.
The researchers who led the study believe that hospitals should offer "a bundled [ER] care package that includes both facility and professional fees" to avoid "surprise billing." They say that if doctors aren't happy with the rates at one hospital, they can always move to another one.
The researchers say that legislation is the answer. While President-elect Trump and Congress have talked about overhauling the health insurance system, they've thus far been short on specifics.
If ER bills saddle you with serious medical debt, you may be able to negotiate with the providers to get them down to something you can afford. If you can't, an experienced bankruptcy attorney can provide some guidance.
Source: NBC News, "Surprise Medical Bills Found in 22 Percent of ER Visits," Maggie Fox and Jane Derenowski, Nov. 16, 2016