Avoid emergency and urgent care centers for non-emergencies

Even with easier access to affordable health insurance under the Affordable Care Act, many people still don't have insurance. Some may have it, but not have a primary care physician. That means that if they become injured or ill, they are faced with a choice of going to an emergency room or urgent care center. Sometimes even people who have regular physicians have to do this if the injury or illness occurs outside of their doctor's office hours.

While many people may see an emergency room and urgent care center as comparable options, in fact, which one you should go to largely depends on your condition. For many emergencies, like a heart attack, stroke, poisoning or severe burn, emergency rooms often have better equipment and facilities. However, if you have a non-urgent condition, such as a broken bone, allergic reaction or illness, urgent care centers are certainly preferable due to their lower cost.

One study looked at nine of the most frequent conditions for which people seek emergency care. These included :

-- Allergies-- Bronchitis-- Earaches-- Sore throat and strep throat-- Upper respiratory infections

In some cases, treatment in an ER cost five or more times that at an urgent care center.

It's not wise to rely on the ER or an urgent care facility for medical needs that could be handled by your physician. Of course, if you are carted off in an ambulance, you generally have no choice regarding where they take you. Between ambulance bills, hospital services and individual physicians' fees, you could easily find yourself owing thousands of dollars -- sometimes even with insurance coverage.

If you find yourself with overwhelming medical bills due to a visit to the ER, there may be ways you can negotiate down your expenses. It may be wise to seek legal help in order to prevent these bills from causing serious financial injury.

Source: Debt.org, "Emergency Rooms vs. Urgent Care Centers," accessed March 08, 2017

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