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High ER Charges for Common Presenting Conditions

Median charge for 10 outpatient conditions $1,233, with considerable variability

THURSDAY, Feb. 28 (HealthDay News) -- Charges for common conditions that present to the emergency department are generally high, with considerable variability, according to a study published online Feb. 27 in PLOS ONE.

Nolan Caldwell, M.D., from Stanford University in California, and colleagues conducted a cross-sectional study of the 2006 to 2008 Medical Expenditure Panel Survey, including 8,303 emergency department encounters representing 76.6 million visits, to examine the charges and their variability for the diagnosis and treatment of the 10 most common outpatient conditions among nonelderly adults presenting to the emergency department.

The researchers found that the range of median charges varied from $740 for an upper respiratory infection to $3,437 for a kidney stone. For all 10 outpatient conditions in the emergency department, the median charge was $1,233, with considerable variability. The interquartile range was greater than $800 for all diagnoses, with the majority (60 percent) of interquartile ranges greater than $1,550.

"Emergency departments play a valuable role in health care delivery, yet consumers know little concerning their emergency department charges before they receive the bill," the authors write. "Whether or not acute care charge transparency will aid in mitigating costs still needs to be investigated; however, better information for patients and providers on consumer cost of medical care going forward will allow patients to be aware of the charges they face in the emergency department."

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