Is Urgent Care Cheaper Than the ER?
Urgent care is often cheaper than going to the emergency room for basic services and non-emergency care. The average urgent care visit costs patients $80 to $280 for primary care and upwards of $500 for more serious interventions and services. Patients may incur additional costs for shots, x-rays, and labs. The average emergency room visit costs $2,200 without insurance.
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The Cost of Urgent Care vs. ER
Urgent care is often cheaper than the hospital, as the care provided at an urgent care is often less intensive and does not cost nearly as much to maintain. The cost of treatment at urgent care can range from $80 to $450 depending on the services provided, while the average price of an ER visit is $2,200. Understanding when you should go to urgent care versus an ER can help you save time and thousands of dollars.
A general rule to remember is that you should only go to an ER if you are experiencing an imminent, serious, and life-threatening medical emergency. Alternatively, you should go to an urgent care clinic if you are experiencing mild symptoms that do not pose an immediate threat to your survival.
Consider the following cost of standard services at urgent care versus an emergency room:
Cost of Services at Urgent Care and ER
|Service||Urgent Care Price||Emergency Room Price|
|Minor fracture||$180 - $240||$1,000+|
|STD Testing||$216 - $360||$150 to $360|
|Vaccinations||$40 - $70||Varies|
|Stitches||$150 - $350||$500|
|X-rays||$75+||$100 - $1,000|
Consider the costs of treatments for more specific and common conditions treated at urgent care centers and emergency rooms.
Cost of Treatment for Common Conditions at Urgent Care and ER
|Services||Urgent Care||Emergency Room|
|Urinary Tract Infections||$112||$665|
|Upper Respiratory Infections||$111||$486|
Factors That Influence the Cost Urgent Care and ER
Many factors can influence the cost of your visit at an urgent care facility or emergency room, such as insurance status, location of the facility, the level classification of your visit, and the services provided.
Insurance status influences how much the patient has to pay out-of-pocket for treatment. The Affordable Care Act (ACA) requires all plans to cover emergency services, but the amount covered depends on the type of insurance plan and whether you’ve met your deductible. Hospitals and healthcare facilities have different self-pay rates for patients paying without insurance. However, paying for services without insurance will likely be significantly more expensive than paying with insurance.
The higher costs for care at an emergency room than urgent care are primarily caused by the facility maintenance costs. Hospitals are inpatient facilities, operating 24/7, and are much larger than urgent care facilities. Emergency rooms have to pay for utility bills such as electricity, water, food, and supplies, along with medical care. These costs then get passed to the patients, resulting in higher prices at emergency rooms than urgent care.
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Entrance Fee and Room Fees
Your costs may begin adding up the moment you enter the emergency room. When you get registered as a patient at the ER, you get charged a triage fee, typically ranging from $200-$1000. If you are assigned a room, you will incur a facility charge that averages $1,118 for the cost of the room and nurse. Additionally, the price of a three-day stay at a hospital averages $30,000. These are fees that you will likely avoid by going to urgent care.
The state in which you live can determine the cost of your out-of-pocket costs for care. Healthcare costs often include the salaries of the healthcare professionals, the cost to maintain the facility, and any services or supplies provided at the time of service. The cost of living can significantly impact your overall costs of care. Consider the following comparison of urgent care costs versus ER costs by city.
Cost of ER and Urgent Care in Different Cities
|City||Urgent Care||Emergency Room|
|New York, NY||$189||$1,668|
|Los Angeles, CA||$175||$2,960|
|Salt Lake City, UT||$175||$1,464|
Level of Visit
Emergency rooms and many urgent cares often have their triage levels or visit types that classify a price range for each visit. Urgent care facilities often have three levels of care, the base level, including the office visit and a few lab tests such as flu or strep testing. The second level may include a few lab tests in addition to an x-ray, and the third may consist of services such as burn care, stitches, or more invasive procedures. Costs often range between $75 to over $350, depending on whether the urgent care facilities cap their out-of-pocket charges.
Emergency room patients receive one of five levels of care, called the Emergency Severity Index Scale (ESI). Level 5 care represents minor problems, whereas level 1 care represents some of the most intensive treatments an ER can provide. An ESI level 5 visit averages $150 in costs, as the minor medical issue is often rerouted to a different facility. An ESI level 1 visit typically costs over $1,450.
Cost of Urgent Care vs. ER Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
When determining whether to visit urgent care or the emergency room, consider these additional questions:
Can I visit urgent care without insurance?
Yes, most urgent care visits offer care to patients paying without insurance. If you are unsure whether the facility provides care to patients without insurance, you can usually find out on the facility’s website. Most urgent care centers do not display the self-pay rates on their website, but this information can be easily obtained by calling the facility directly.
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Can I visit the emergency room without insurance?
Yes, under the federal Emergency Medical Treatment and Labor Act (EMTALA) law, anyone coming to an emergency department must be stabilized and treated, regardless of their insurance status or ability to pay. Granted, you will stay have to pay for your visit after being stabilized or treated.
When should I go to urgent care versus the emergency room?
While many conditions can be treated at both urgent care and the emergency room, understanding when you should go to each may save you time and money. You should go to the emergency room when you are experiencing:
- Chest pain
- Heart attack symptoms
- Difficulty breathing
- Head trauma
- Severe bleeding
- Loss of vision
Urgent care visits often treat the following conditions:
- Allergic reactions and asthma
- Cuts, burns, bug bites, and animal bites
- Falls, sprains, strains, and broken bones
- Colds and flu
- Pink eye
- Ear infections
- Sinus pressure and sinus infections (sinusitis)
- Bronchitis and strep throat
- Blood tests include blood glucose, basic and comprehensive metabolic panels, complete blood counts, etc.
- Electrolyte testing
- STD tests
- Pregnancy tests
- Drug tests and screenings
- Fecal blood occult
- Flu and rapid flu tests
- Strep tests
- PT / INR tests
- Vaccinations and flu shots
- Physicals (school, sports, or annual)
- Gynecologic exams
- Drug screening
- Well baby checks
How to avoid high costs at urgent care or the ER?
Understanding what might appear on your bill may allow you to anticipate the costs of services for your healthcare needs. Whether you are choosing a facility or trying to mentally balance your budget at the time of care, consider asking the following questions:
- Is there a waiting room or entry fee?
- How much is the total out-of-pocket cost?
- How much are the services I’m receiving today?
- How much is the treatment I’m receiving?
- Are there administrative fees or fees for seeing a provider?
- Is one type of medicine cheaper than another?
- Is a kind of diagnostic test cheaper than another?
- What are my alternatives?
Can I negotiate my medical bills?
Yes! You can negotiate your medical bills, and while you can do this on your own, you may also consider hiring a professional medical negotiator. Your skills alone may save you nearly 20 percent, but with a professional, savings may be upwards of 60 percent. You should first get your bills organized, asking for itemized receipts, and comparing the medical billing codes to average costs of services in your state. You will then have to send a settlement letter and stay persistent with the administrator or billing department of the health facility you wish to negotiate.
Urgent care centers are often cheaper than emergency rooms for non-emergent care. If you have a condition that requires basic medical intervention, such as a lab screening, X-ray, or sinus pressure, urgent care would be a cost-effective alternative to the emergency room. Emergency rooms often charge a triage fee and a room fee, in addition to the higher costs associated with maintaining the facility. Urgent care visits are usually a few hundred, but emergency room visits can average thousands.
To make your urgent care visits more affordable, Mira offers a low-cost monthly subscription for access to urgent care, discounts on prescriptions and lab screenings, and more! Monthly rates range between $25 to $60, depending on the duration of your plan. Save money on your medical expenses and sign up for Mira today!
Ashley Brooks works in Healthcare Consulting and graduates with her MPH in September of 2022 from George Washington University, but graduated with her B.S. in Health Science from James Madison University in 2019. Ashley has been with Mira since June of 2021 and shares the passion for creating affordable healthcare coverage for all!