Every traveller who is planning on taking a trip abroad is always advised to purchase health insurance. In fact, travel health insurance is an obligatory requirement for visa applications to many countries, including the Schengen Area. That’s because without health insurance, the doctor visit costs may add up higher than your entire trip; in some countries more so than others.
With recent media coverage of healthcare cost nightmares in the US, foreigners travelling there have understandably started becoming concerned about the average cost of a doctor visit or a trip to the ER.
But, just how much does a doctor visit cost in the US? Will visitors have to leave half of their life savings at the hospital because of a simple sprain? What if a more serious medical emergency pops up? What if you get into an accident?
This article is a guide for visitors and expats to the US regarding prices for medical care, including the average doctor visit cost, the price for an ambulance ride, hospitalization, and ER visit.
How much is a doctor visit without insurance in the USA?
The average cost of a doctor’s visit in the US is not too high – provided it is just a consultation and you do not need actual medical treatment. In these cases, the price can range from $200-$300.
On the other hand, if you actually are sick or have sustained an injury and need to visit the Emergency Room, then the prices can quickly add up.
According to a study conducted by the National Institute for Health, the average cost of an ER visit in the US is $2168. The average prices for some of the most common reasons for ER visits are as follows:
- For sprains and strains: $1498
- For open wounds or extremities: $1650
- For a normal pregnancy or delivery: $2008
- For a headache: $1727
- For back problems: $1476
- For a kidney stone: $4247
- For a urinary tract infection (UTI): $2598
- For an upper respiratory infection: $1101
- For an intestinal infection: $2398
- For other injuries: $2103
However, the cost of an ER visit depends on several other factors such as the coverage of your health insurance plan (or whether you have an insurance plan at all) and even which hospital you go to. Additionally, your treatment and even your doctor may affect the cost of your hospital visit.
And keep in mind that the earlier figures are an average, which means some people pay much more than that.
Medical treatment costs in USA
The US has some of the highest prices in the world regarding medical treatment, and if you don’t have health insurance, a sprained ankle or another unexpected injury during your trip could end up costing you thousands of dollars. One of the reasons why an ER visit in the US can reach such high prices is due to the cost of medical tests and procedures.
In the US, an ambulance ride is not paid from taxpayer money. Much like the rest of the healthcare services in the US, ambulances are also a private business and can reach hefty fees.
- The cost for an ambulance ranges from $400 to over $1200, depending on the mileage.
- The cost for an air ambulance ranges from $2,000 to upwards of $200,000
Doctors in the US tend to order more medical tests as compared to other countries. This has been referred to as “defensive medicine” – as a way of protecting themselves from a possible lawsuit. What’s more, these tests are also more expensive.
- Blood tests can range from $100 to upwards of $3,000 in price
- An X-Ray can range from $150 to over $3,000
- An MRI can cost from $1,000 to more than $5,000
Another reason why medical costs are so high in the US is because the government does not negotiate the prices of prescription drugs with pharmaceutical companies before they release them. As such, these prices are often very high. Diabetes medication, for example, can cost upwards of $500.
On the other hand, you can find over-the-counter medication (cold medicine, pain reliever etc) for very reasonable prices.
Prices for surgical procedures in the US depend on the type of procedure you need. For example, tonsillectomy can set you back from $4,000 to $8,000 or more. Gallbladder removal is at least $10,000 whereas brain and heart surgery can reach hundreds of thousands.
In addition, you may also be required to pay additional fees for hospital stay, per-hour costs of the operating room as well as the anesthesia.
The price of a hospital stay in the US can change from one hospital to the other, but on average, it is about $3,000 per day. This means that a ten-day recovery period may set you back $30,000.
If your condition requires you to recover in the ICU (Intensive Care Unit), the price is even higher than that.
A trip to the dentist can also be pricey, although it’s not going to put you at risk of bankruptcy. A dental examination costs about $50, whereas a tooth extraction is set at about $280. Average prices for some other common dental problems are:
- Tooth filling: $115 – $190
- Root canal: $695
- Sedated tooth removal: $217
- Wisdom tooth removal: $175
Health insurance for tourists in the US
Unlike for Schengen Visas, tourists to the US do not necessarily have to purchase travel health insurance before they enter the country. However, when faced with the hefty fees, obtaining short-term travel health insurance is the superior option to paying from your own pocket. If nothing, it will give you peace of mind knowing that even if something happens, you won’t be at risk of going bankrupt from a visit to the ER.
The price of the insurance plan changes. It can be as little as $2 per day to over $10 per day, depending on the coverage you select, the number of days you are staying in the US, as well as your age.
You can buy travel health insurance from companies such as VisitorsCoverage, which offer affordable travel health insurance plans for tourists to the US.
Health insurance for expatriates in the US
If you intend to live in the US long-term, you have to get private health insurance. Again, health insurance in the US is not compulsory. You have the option of forgoing it but it will be at your own risk.
If you are a US Work Visa holder, in many cases, your employer will provide health insurance for you. If they do not, you must purchase it yourself through an international health insurance company.
If you are an international student, you can get F1 Visa Health Insurance, which is often offered by the school as a compulsory insurance plan with predetermined coverage. Even so, you usually have to pay for the insurance plan yourself.
Health insurance plans in the US cost an average of $400 per month, depending on the state as well as the coverage and the health insurance company you choose.
Note: Please keep in mind that this article is for informational purposes only and that the costs displayed are an average and may differ from state to state and even from one hospital or one doctor to the other.
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