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Costs of Doctor Visits

The Costs of Doctor Visits: What to Expect and How to Save

A trip to the doctor can be stressful enough without having to worry about the costs. Unfortunately, healthcare in the United States can be extremely expensive, even for routine doctor visits. Understanding what to expect to pay and how to save money can help reduce financial stress when you need medical care.

Typical Costs for Different Types of Doctor Visits

The amount you’ll pay for a doctor visit can vary widely depending on factors like:

  • The type of doctor you see
  • Whether you have health insurance
  • Your specific health insurance plan and deductible
  • The services provided during the visit

Here are some estimates for common types of doctor visits:

Primary Care

Seeing your primary care doctor for a routine physical, vaccination, or to discuss a minor health issue like a sinus infection typically costs between $100-$250 without health insurance. With insurance, you’ll usually pay a copay, which averages around $20 for an office visit.Some primary care services like annual wellness visits and certain preventative screenings are covered 100% by insurance due to the Affordable Care Act (ACA) . This means they are free as long as you see an in-network provider.


Visits to specialists like cardiologists, dermatologists, or orthopedists usually cost more, averaging $150-$350 per visit without insurance. Specialist copays are also often higher than for primary care, averaging $40-$60.Some types of specialists, like psychiatrists, may charge higher cash rates upwards of $250-500 per session.

Urgent Care

Urgent care provides walk-in treatment for issues that require prompt attention but aren’t severe enough for the ER. Fees can range from $150-$300 on average without insurance. With insurance, you’ll typically pay $50-$100 as a copay.

Emergency Room

Of all doctor visit types, emergency rooms have by far the highest costs, often charging thousands of dollars for treatment. An ER visit for something relatively minor like stitches could easily top $1,000 or more depending on your state, hospital, and length of stay.With insurance, ER services require higher copays, deductibles, and coinsurance. The average ER copay is $250-$500 or more. ER costs continue escalating from there if you require intensive treatments, imaging scans, surgery and hospital admission.

Understanding Your Health Insurance and Potential Out-of-Pocket Costs

The amount you ultimately pay out of pocket for a doctor visit depends largely on your health insurance plan. It’s important to understand the basics of health insurance terminology to estimate your costs:

  • Premium – The upfront amount you pay each month for your health insurance policy. Premiums average around $500 per month for individual coverage.
  • Deductible – The amount you must pay out of pocket before your insurance starts contributing towards your medical costs. For example, if you have a $2,000 deductible, you must pay 100% of medical expenses until you reach $2,000. Deductibles often reset January 1st each year. Average deductibles for individual plans fall around $4,500 per year .
  • Copay – The fixed amount you pay at the time of a doctor visit, usually $10-$75 depending on the type of visit. Copays apply after you meet your deductible.
  • Coinsurance – The percentage you pay for services after meeting your deductible, often 10%-30%. So if you have 20% coinsurance, you pay 20% of costs while insurance covers the other 80%.
  • Out-of-pocket maximum – The limit on the total amount you’ll pay in deductibles, copays and coinsurance for covered medical services, usually $5,000-$8,000. Your insurance covers 100% of costs after this limit.

The problem is it can be nearly impossible to determine exactly what you’ll owe, especially in complex situations like a hospitalization. Billing codes, contracted rates between providers and insurance networks, and claim errors further complicate estimates.While surprising medical bills are common today, new federal legislation aims to help consumers fight excessive out-of-network charges and balance billing starting in 2022.

Ways to Save Money on Healthcare Costs

With rising premiums and sky-high potential out-of-pocket costs, saving money on healthcare is crucial. Here are some tips:

  • Consider a high deductible health plan (HDHP) – HDHPs have lower monthly premiums but you pay more upfront before insurance kicks in. An HDHP paired with a Health Savings Account (HSA) can minimize costs long-term.
  • Use in-network providers – Staying in your health insurance network saves you from expensive out-of-network charges. Search for in-network doctors using your insurer’s online directory.
  • Ask about cash pricing – If paying out of pocket for a doctor visit, ask if they offer cash pay discounts since you won’t be using insurance. Discounts of 20-40% off regular prices are common.
  • Shop prescriptions – Compare prescription costs at multiple pharmacies. Apps like GoodRx show drug prices at nearby locations. Also ask your doctor for generic versions that are usually cheaper.
  • Get preventative care – Regular checkups, screenings, and lab work covered under the ACA help catch issues early before they become catastrophic events down the road.

Using Healthcare Sharing and Charity Options

If you are uninsured or struggle paying medical bills even with health insurance, some additional options to lower costs include:

  • Healthcare sharing ministries – Nonprofit religious organizations facilitating medical cost sharing among members typically for primary care and hospitalizations. Monthly member costs are often under $200 per month.
  • Hospital charity care – Most nonprofit hospitals offer free or discounted care for low income, uninsured patients. Income limits vary by hospital, usually falling between 200-400% of the federal poverty level.
  • State and local medical assistance – Your state or county health department may offer special medical assistance programs, Medicaid coverage, or connect you with sliding-scale clinics charging based on your ability to pay. Eligibility varies greatly by location.

Checking if you qualify for any of these programs is worth exploring if facing costly medical bills.

The Bottom Line

Doctor visits, labs, imaging, hospital stays, and medications quickly add up, even for the insured. Having a handle on the potential costs based on your health insurance plan and proactively using money saving techniques reduces financial fears and stresses.With the right preparation and knowledge of what healthcare truly costs today, you can seek treatment with confidence and work towards better health.

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