In 2021, healthcare spending in the United States increased 2.7% to $4.3 trillion, or an average of $12,914 per person. That’s a staggering amount when you consider that the average U.S. annual wage was $60,575.07 that same year.
As high-deductible health care plans rise, more Americans are footing the bill for their care. This can be expensive, especially when you consider the average cost of a hospital stay in the U.S.
Table of Contents
- The U.S. average cost of an overnight hospital stay is $2,883
- An estimated 66.5% of personal bankruptcies are due to costs from hospital stays and medical treatments
- The average cost of treatments that require an overnight hospital stay is $13,600
- The cost of a single emergency room visit is estimated to be nearly $2,000
- 40% of Americans have had credit scores fall due to medical bills
- One in six credit reports contains a medical debt
Average Cost of an Overnight Hospital Stay By State
According to Kaiser Family Foundation cost statistics, these were average state costs per inpatient night in 2021, the most recent numbers available.
Health Care in the United States is Expensive
Whether it’s you who is being admitted for a knee replacement ($15,000 to $70,000), your wife staying in a private room after having a C-section ($17,004) or a child who needs a tonsillectomy ($3,643 to $7,977), costs add up quickly.
According to the American Hospital Association, more than 34,011,386 Americans were admitted to hospitals last year. And it can be financially devastating.
An estimated 66.5% of personal bankruptcies are due to costs from hospital stays and medical treatments.
READ MORE: How much does it cost to have a baby?
The numbers are staggering as the total healthcare spending in the United States soared past $4.3 trillion in 2021, according to totals from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services. And more than 31% of that — or about $1.3 trillion — was spent at hospitals.
Additionally, hospital care averaged $2,873 per day throughout the United States. (That’s 504 hours of work at the average 2021 hourly earnings.) If you reside in California, the most expensive state for health care, the bill will top $3,726 daily. You’ll also pay higher-than-average costs if you live in New York. On the flip side, the least expensive state for health care is Wyoming, averaging $1,383 per day.
Average Cost for Inpatient Treatment Requiring a Hospital Stay
Yes, healthcare costs are high on their own, but costs soar when treatment includes an overnight stay, which averages about $13,600.
These numbers and other healthcare-related costs can be financially devastating for anyone, especially if you’re on a limited budget or don’t have health insurance.
About 60% to 65% of all bankruptcies are related to medical expenses because when a patient sees the final invoice, the bill is overwhelming.
In 2021, the United States reportedly spent about $4.3 trillion, or 18.3% of the GDP, on health expenditures, and that number continues to rise.
Average Emergency Room Costs
You’d be surprised if you thought an emergency room visit was cheaper than full-on hospital visits.
According to the Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project, the cost of a single emergency room visit is estimated to be nearly $2,000, but the total cost will depend on your condition and where you live.
It could be even more if you must be admitted for a more extended stay.
These ER costs have skyrocketed by 176% percent in the last decade, according to USA Today.
Keep this in mind: if you are admitted to an ER for whatever ailment, your total charge will be based on triage fees ($200-$1,000), facility fees (averages $1,118), doctor fees — not included in facility fees — and supplies.
Pro tip: In triage, there are five severity levels, each with a different charge. Level 1 is the most urgent, and Level 5 is the least urgent. If you’re level 3, 4 or 5, you’ll have a long wait. A level 3 (most common) will pay significantly more than a level 5.
The bottom line is before you race to an emergency room in your neighborhood, city, or town, assess your condition to make sure it’s an emergency.
If it isn’t a true emergency — say you fell and think you sprained an ankle — this and other more minor issues can be treated at an urgent care center for a fraction of the cost.
Going to an urgent care center could save you a lot of money, time, and effort. Many are equipped to manage everything from suturing a deep cut to setting a broken arm. In addition to the lower cost, wait times will be shorter and there will be less risk of exposure to colds and flu.
University of Chicago Medicine offers some helpful guidelines on what constitutes an emergency:
Head to the ER or call 911 without delay if you experience the following medical conditions:
- Shortness of breath
- Chest pain, left arm pain or left jaw pain
- Serious burns and cuts
- Severe allergic reaction
- Stroke symptoms, including slurred speech or sudden numbness/weakness in any area of your body, facial droop, loss of balance or vision
- A change in mental status (such as confusion
- Loss of consciousness (if you pass out)
- Multiple injuries or a possible broken bone in areas like the ribs, skull, face, or pelvis
- If you’re pregnant and have vaginal bleeding or pelvic/abdominal pain
For less severe symptoms, visit an urgent care center or, if permitted in your state, try a virtual consultation with a doctor, also known as telemedicine.
Doctor Visit Costs
Before going to the hospital, ER, or an urgent care center, you should assess whether you simply need to see the doctor.
You should also know what type of insurance you have, what it covers and who the network providers are before visiting any healthcare facility (unless it’s an emergency.)
Even when you go to a doctor for a routine visit and if you have private insurance, you’ll probably have to pay a co-pay ranging from $20 to $25 for a primary care visit to $30 to $50 on average to see a specialist.
However, if you have a High-Deductible Health Plan or HDHP, you’ll pay the full price until your deductible obligations are met.
Doctor Visit Costs Without Insurance
A doctor’s visit will set you back somewhere between $70 and $250 if you’re uninsured, but this number rises if you need additional testing or prescriptions.
Healthcare BlueBook is an online guide to healthcare pricing, with amounts based on the typical fees physicians nationwide accept as payment from insurance companies if you want to check it out.
According to the Healthcare BlueBook pricing, an office visit for a new patient with a minor problem will cost between $90 to $283. An office visit for an established patient with complex problems ranges from $222 to $695+.
Baffled by premiums, deductibles and out-of-pocket maximums? Consumer Reports has a good overview that will help clear things up and give you a better sense of how your money is spent.
Average Cost for COVID-19 Hospitalization
During the coronavirus pandemic, the average cost of COVID-19 hospitalization could be cripplingly expensive. The median charge amount for hospitalization ranged from $34,662 for patients ages 23 to 30 to $45,683 for those between 51 to 60, according to FAIR Health.
Various insurers waived deductibles for COVID-19 cases, and preventive vaccines remain free to the general public, but that was just a small part of the overall tab.
Pro tip: If you need a COVID-19 booster, ask if you will be responsible for any payment. Government response to the pandemic is beginning to wane and protections are being lifted.
Typical Hospital Charges
When you go to the hospital for a procedure, you might be surprised to learn how expensive it is. Many people get sticker shock when the hospital bill arrives.
If you think buying a new car or putting down a down payment on a home is cheaper, guess again.
Here are some examples of typical medical costs, based on the national average, depending on where and when you might have these practices:
- Hysterectomy: $4,271 for a vaginal hysterectomy to $8,413 for a vaginal or abdominal hysterectomy.
- Gallbladder surgery: For patients without health insurance, gallbladder surgery typically costs $10,000-$20,000.
- Appendectomy: For patients not covered by health insurance, an appendectomy typically costs about $10,000-$35,000 or more, depending on the provider, whether the operation is open or laparoscopic, and whether there are complications.
- ICD implantation: If you’ve never heard of an ICD, be thankful: it stands for Implantable Cardioverter-Defibrillator. It’s a small electronic device similar to a pacemaker that sends an electrical shock to the heart that essentially “reboots” it to get it pumping again. Total costs for an ICD implantation range from $24,078 to $57,347 with an average of $36,098.
- Coronary bypass surgery: Depending on how complicated the heart procedure needs to be, costs average $75,345 in the United States.
- Hip replacement: Surgery can cost you anywhere between $23,203 to $74,000+, according to Healthcare BlueBook.
- Knee replacement: The average cost of an inpatient knee replacement procedure was $30,249, compared with $19,002 as an outpatient, according to estimates from Blue Cross Blue Shield.
- Weight loss surgery: The average cost of gastric bypass surgery is $23,000, the average cost of a lap band procedure is $14,500, and the average cost of sleeve gastrectomy surgery is $14,900.
Bear in mind that there are other costs associated with surgery, including pre-and post-surgical treatment, anesthesia (you don’t want to skimp there!), consultations with the surgeon and various deductibles, co-pays and premiums.
What Happens If You Can’t Afford Your Medical Bills?
So, what happens if you have a heart attack, a stroke, or some other major illness and can’t afford your medical bills?
If you find yourself in this spot, you are not alone. According to the Federal Reserve, the credit scores of two in five Americans were negatively affected by medical bills. One in six credit reports contains a medical debt.
And despite rumors to the contrary, it is not a violation of HIPAA (The Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996) to send medical debts to debt collectors or debt collection agencies.
READ MORE: Medical bill debt collection laws
If you can’t afford to pay your medical bills, you need to take some steps to protect yourself from ending up in court. This includes:
1. Review all bills. Are the charges accurate? It’s not uncommon for a hospital to make errors on invoices. Be sure to check with the finance department that everything is accurate and carefully review the invoice.
2. Don’t ignore any medical bills. If you do, you could find yourself in the collection file, and that’s the last thing you want, especially if you must have future procedures or return to a hospital or medical facility.
3. Try to negotiate with the hospital to work out an interest-free payment plan. Like any other business, a hospital is a business, and you might be able to work out a payment plan with the finance department when you explain your financial hardship(s). Community hospitals are more likely to negotiate.
4. See if any nonprofit organizations in your community help with medical expenses.
READ MORE: Need money now? How to get quick help
5. Apply for a loan (don’t use credit cards to pay your medical bills unless you have no other option.) Ask a family member, friend, or someone you feel comfortable approaching if they can loan you the money so you can pay off your medical bills.
READ MORE: Best small loans
6. Work with any debt collection agencies that contact you, explain the situation to them, and see if you can work out an arrangement. Depending on the debt collection agency, some will consider your health problems and issues and may be more lenient with a payment plan.
7. Consider a debt settlement program. Debt settlement companies contact your creditor or debt collectors to offer a settlement that’s lower than the total you owe, then sets up a payment plan.
READ MORE: Best debt settlement companies
8. Consider bankruptcy: This will have long-term consequences, so this should be a last-ditch option. But if you need to claim bankruptcy, don’t hesitate. It’s nothing to be ashamed of and it happens to good people. Just be sure to talk with a bankruptcy attorney first.
READ MORE: How to get help with medical bills
Annual Health Care Costs in the United States
Like everything else, from cheese to a bottle of wine, items go up and rarely go down, and health care is no different.
Incidentally, the United States spends the most on health care, and in 2021, National Health Expenditures grew 2.7% to $4.3 trillion, or 18.3% of the gross domestic product (GDP). Spending per person was $12,914.
And the largest shares of total health spending were funded by:
- The federal government: 34%
- Households: 27%
- Private business: 17%
- State and local governments: 17%
- Other private revenues: 7%
Switzerland, the country with the second-highest spending, spent about $9,666 in health care expenses per capita.
Other Health Care Costs
Besides a potential future ER or long-term hospital visit, there are other healthcare costs you should think about that can also add up. From the prescription meds you might need to take to long-term care if you need to move to a nursing home or assisted living facility or if you need someone to help you, the associated healthcare costs in this country are high:
- Prescription drug spending totaled $603 billion in 2021, an increase of 7.7% over 2020.
- Out-of-pocket spending grew by 5.8% to $1.2 billion in 2021.
- Physician and clinical services expenditures grew 5.6% to $$864 billion in 2021.
Why is Health Care in the United States So Expensive?
There are several reasons:
- Utilization: According to USA Today, utilization is often the underlying motive to make money, resulting in a ripple effect pushing prices up. For example, insurance companies spend a lot on utilization reviews — a process determining if a medical service is covered under a certain health care plan. The goal is “to not pay consumers for the care they thought they were insured for …”
- Price: The United States health care is part of a system where patients are charged for the services they receive which means prices for everything related can fluctuate enormously, and they do.
- Hospital consolidations: It’s no secret that the United States health care system is fractured within the country, and there are fewer choices for companies offering health insurance or medical care.
- Inefficiencies: For those companies that offer or charge for health care, i.e., hospital systems and drug manufacturers, they have the power to keep costs high as they negotiate with various potential payers, such as private insurance companies.
And when dealing with a single-payer, i.e., the federal government, there’s even more pressure to meet the demand to sell their services. The USA Today article states: “The United States government doesn’t regulate what most companies in the health care space can charge for their services, whether it’s insurance, drugs, or care itself.”
Higher Costs Don’t Mean Better Outcomes
The United States performs worse than other countries in common health issues such as life expectancy, infant mortality, and uncontrolled diabetes.
In other words, just because you’re paying more for a doctor visit, for an ER doctor to set your broken leg or to stay three days in a private room after giving birth doesn’t mean the care will be A+.
The Bottom Line
Overall, health care in the United States continues to be costly, regardless of whether you have the best of the best private insurance or are on a government plan — without all the bells and whistles.
And unfortunately, healthcare costs don’t appear to be going down any time soon.
It’s important to make sure you understand your insurance policy and have an emergency savings account in case a medical emergency arises.
Hospitals won’t usually report medical debt to the credit bureaus. But if you don’t pay what you owe, they will turn the debt over to collections. Once the account shows up in collections, it will damage your credit score. The longer the debt is in collections, the worse the impact on your credit will be. There is one big benefit to paying those past-due medical bills. The credit bureaus have said they will update credit reports to remove all debts that were paid after being sent to collections. This has the potential to give your credit score a significant boost.
No, technically hospitals cannot look at any patient’s bank account without permission. The fine print, however, may request this permission, or it may request copies of your recent bank statements. If possible, make sure you — or a family member — carefully review all documents before agreeing to sign.
Sometimes, they will. In the case of charity-based care, a hospital may decide to write off an unpaid medical bill. Usually, though, if a patient doesn’t pay their bill, it will become bad debt and be turned over to a debt collector. If the bill becomes bad debt, the patient will be liable for it and it could impact their credit.