Cut Health Care Costs by Reducing Employee ER Use

A recent Robert Wood Johnson Foundation study reports that employers pay for nearly three-quarters of their employees’ healthcare premiums. One way to help reduce those premium costs is to reduce the use of the emergency room (ER) by employees.

All too often employees treat the ER as their doctor’s office, only with extended hours. Unfortunately, the ER costs much, much more than a doctor’s visit. By way of example, refer to the chart below. CareFirst of Maryland compared the costs of treatment for several common ailments, ranging from the flu to urinary tract infections. Care from urgent or convenience care centers resulted in savings between 74 percent and 94 percent when compared to treatment at an emergency room.

Potential Health Treatment Savings

Cost comparisons for treatment of some common ailments

Influenza (flu), Otitis Media (middle ear infection), Urinary Tract Infection

DescriptionEmergency RoomUrgent Care CenterConvenience Care CenterPotential Savings
Acute Bronchitis$795$123$6985%-91%
Acute Sinusitis
(sinus infection)

While your employees may receive the treatment needed, their ER visit will come at a high financial cost for both them and you. At year’s end, most insurance companies will evaluate your employee population’s utilization and resulting costs and adjust your premium accordingly. Should your workforce have a relatively healthy year, there’s a good chance your plan costs will remain stable or go down. Conversely, if your employees have a number of hospitalization or emergency room visits, your renewal quote will no doubt go up.

Not every incident is an emergency

Obviously, employees should use the ER for life-threatening events such as heart attacks or serious bleeding. But for less serious episodes—colds and other minor infections, bug bites, back pain, minor cuts, and rashes, for example—there are less costly alternatives. A call to a health plan’s 24-hour nurse helpline or a visit to an urgent care center will help determine the most appropriate—and cost-effective—care.


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All plans offered and underwritten by Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington or Kaiser Foundation Health Plan of Washington Options, Inc.