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Few things are more stressful than going to the emergency room. And the anxiety of an ER visit definitely increases when you’re not sure how you’re going to pay for it.

If you have Medicare, your Part A may cover the cost of an ER visit depending on the circumstances, but another part of Medicare may cover the cost instead.

Medicare Part A is sometimes called “hospital insurance,” but it only covers the costs of an ER visit if you’re admitted to the hospital to treat the illness or injury that brought you to the ER.

If you’re treated and released from the emergency department without being admitted to the hospital for care, chances are Medicare Part A won’t cover your ER visit.

Even if you stay in the ER overnight, Medicare Part A considers you an outpatient unless a doctor writes an order admitting you to the hospital as an inpatient for treatment.

What is a moon form?

If you stay in the hospital overnight as an outpatient, you may receive a form called a Medicare Outpatient Observation Notice, or MOON for short. If you’re in the hospital for observation for more than 24 hours, you must be given this form.

Your MOON form will explain why you’re staying in the hospital as an outpatient and what care you may need when you go home. Getting a MOON is one way to tell which part of Medicare may pay part of your ER bill.

Most of the time, you have to be admitted as an inpatient for two consecutive midnights for Medicare Part A to cover your visit.

If a doctor admits you to the hospital following an ER visit and you stay in the hospital for two midnights or longer, Medicare Part A pays for your inpatient hospital stay plus the outpatient costs from your ER visit.

You’ll still be responsible for your deductible, coinsurance, and copayments. If you’re not sure whether you’re being treated as an outpatient or inpatient, ask the doctor treating you. If you have a Medigap plan, it may pay part of your copay or coinsurance.

What’s the difference between copays and coinsurance?
  • Copayments are fixed amounts you pay for a medical service or office visit. When you visit the ER, you may have several copays based on the number of services you receive. Depending on how the hospital bills, you may not owe copays until sometime after your visit.
  • Coinsurance is the percentage of the bill for which you’re responsible. Typically, Medicare requires you to pay 20 percent of the costs for your care.

Medicare Part B

The good news is that Medicare Part B (medical insurance) generally pays for your ER visits whether you’ve been hurt, you develop a sudden illness, or an illness takes a turn for the worse.

Medicare Part C (Medicare Advantage)

Medicare Part C plans (Medicare Advantage plans) also pay for ER and urgent care expenses. Even though Medicare parts B and C usually pay for ER visits, you’ll still be responsible for your deductible, coinsurance, and copayments in addition to your monthly premiums for these plans.

Medicare Part B generally pays 80 percent of your costs. You’re responsible for the remaining 20 percent. In 2019, the annual Part B deductible is $185.

Medicare Supplement (Medigap)

If you have Medigap (Medicare Supplement) insurance in addition to your Part B plan, it can help you pay your 20 percent of the cost of the ER visit.

Medicare Part D

Medicare Part D is prescription drug coverage. If you’re given medications in your IV while in the ER, Medicare B or C will usually cover them.

However, if you need medication you usually take and are given it by the hospital while in the ER, that’s called a self-administered drug (SAD). If the medication you’re given is on your Medicare Part D drug list, Medicare Part D may pay for that medication.

You may receive several different kinds of services during an ER visit, including:

  • emergency examination by one or more physicians
  • lab tests
  • X-rays
  • scans or screenings
  • medical or surgical procedures
  • medical supplies and equipment, like crutches
  • medications

These services and supplies may be billed together or separately, depending on the practices of the hospital you visit.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) estimates that 145 million people visit the emergency room every year, with a little more than 12.5 million of them being admitted to the hospital for inpatient care as a result.

The Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) says the median amount people paid for an ER visit in 2017 was $776.00. The amount you have to pay will vary depending on where you live, what condition you’re being treated for, and what kind of coverage your plan provides.

Medicare Part B will pay for an ambulance to take you to the ER if your health would be endangered by traveling some other way.

For example, if you’re injured and bleeding heavily and care in an ambulance could save your life, Medicare would pay for you to be transported by ambulance to the nearest appropriate medical center.

If you choose to be treated at a facility farther away, you could be responsible for the difference in cost for transportation between the two facilities.

When should a senior go to the hospital?

Doctors at Cleveland Clinic recommend that you take an older parent or loved one to the emergency room if you observe:

  • signs of a stroke, such as slurred speech, weakness on one side, or drooping of the face
  • signs of a heart attack, such as chest pain, shortness of breath, dizziness, or fatigue
  • symptoms of dehydration, including fast heart rate, dizziness, muscle cramps, and thirst

When you go to the ER, make sure you take your loved one’s insurance information, along with a list of any medications they’re taking.

If you or a loved one needs to go to the ER, it’s important to know that Medicare Part A does not generally cover ER visits unless the patient is admitted to the hospital for treatment.

Medicare Part B and Medicare Advantage plans (Medicare Part C) usually do cover 80 percent of the cost of ER services, but patients are responsible for coinsurance, copayments, and deductibles.