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Emergency room visits can create serious medical debt

Medical debt is the leading cause of personal bankruptcy in the U.S. The number of uninsured Americans has dropped significantly since the implementation of the Affordable Care Act (ACA). However, even with health insurance, a serious illness or injury can wipe out a family's savings and put them in serious debt.

Emergency room (ER) visits can be particularly hard on the bank account. They've never been cheap, but they're becoming even more pricey. The average cost of an ER visit rose by over 30 percent between 2012 and 2016 -- to $1,917. That was the finding of the Health Care Cost Institute (HCCI), which studied health care spending by almost 40 million people who had health insurance through their employers.

There are several reasons why ER visits are getting more expensive. First, with more urgent care centers popping up, many people use those for things they used to go to an ER for -- for example, broken bones or food poisoning.

Emergency room personnel are spending more time dealing with critical situations like car crash injuries and gunshot wounds. Therefore, the cost of simply walking in the door (or being brought in on a gurney), no matter what your medical issue, has become higher.

Further, ER equipment is getting more technologically sophisticated. That's great if you need a diagnosis that only an MRI can provide. However, tests done in ERs are generally costlier than if you were referred to a facility by your primary care physician.

Sometimes an ER visit is unavoidable. A situation may be so serious that it's necessary. If you're in a car crash or other situation where you're unconscious, you may be taken to an ER by first responders.

If the subsequent bill is exorbitant, there may be ways to get it down to something you can pay. First, review the invoice carefully. It may include a raft of tests, services and physicians' fees you don't understand. However, don't assume that they're all accurate. Billing errors occur. If you don't understand something on the bill, question it.

If the bill is accurate but you can't pay it, talk to the hospital about arranging a payment plan.

If your emergency room or other medical bills are overwhelming, it may be wise to explore all your legal options for debt relief. There are ways to get out from under a mountain of debt and get a fresh financial start.

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Lakewood, CO 80228

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