No, You Can’t Just Go to the Emergency Room—Unless You Want to Go Broke

Tim Murphy | Mother Jones | October 18, 2013

Or: Why I'm so glad I have health insurance.

About three weeks ago I was walking home from the grocery store when a group of teenagers demanded my wallet, cellphone, and—for reasons I can't fully explain—gallon of whole milk. Although I made no effort to resist, I ended up with a laceration on my lip that required stitches, fairly intense swelling on both sides of my head that required X-rays, and a bruised rib. And I was down a gallon of milk and a dozen eggs. It sucked.

On Tuesday, though, I got some good news—a billing statement from George Washington University Hospital, where I got my stitches, CAT scan, painkillers, and a tetanus shot. Thanks to my employer-provided insurance company, Carefirst Blue Cross Blue Shield, I ended up paying about $50. But if I didn't have insurance, like 47 million working-age adults nationally and approximately 23 percent of 18-to-25-year-olds, it would have increased the bill by a factor of more than a hundred. The sutures alone were $1,400, and another $300 to have them taken out four days later. I'm a young journalist at a nonprofit magazine. I do my best to budget responsibly. But I don't have $5,000 of disposable income just lying around. My unfortunate encounter with typically wayward millennials could have left me broke.