smartER: How far would you drive to save $600?

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Paul Bellau remembers well the night an overpowering, blotchy skin condition that refused to go away landed him in the emergency room.

But, he remembers even better what came after.

Paul, 54, who lives in Berkley, Mich., said the nagging itch turned out to be hives (that’s “urticaria” to those of you with a scientific bent), probably caused by the stress of dealing with a major life change at the time.

Whatever the cause, after a couple of days of torturous itching and scratching, Paul found himself heading for the nearest ER where he received treatment, a lecture from a doctor there about when and when not to use the ER and a warning that his wallet was about to become significantly lighter … all of this after a two-hour wait.

“I had a doctor at the time, but he was about 40 minutes away and the ER was only five,” Paul said. “I thought I was saving time by not driving all the way out there and back. Turns out, it would have been easier and cheaper to have seen him.”

About $600 cheaper.

He had insurance at the time, an individual policy of the non-Blue type, but that wasn’t going to pay much, if anything, on a visit to the ER for just an itchy skin rash.

“I know now, but didn’t then, that it would have been much cheaper to go to my PCP and, in hindsight, much more convenient,” Paul said. “The ER isn’t a catch all. If you go to the ER, go for broken bones, stitches or worse.

“The rest – go to your PCP or go to urgent care. The ER professionals will thank you, and you’ll save time and money.”

Paul capped his story by saying that he recently dealt with a similar condition by visiting an urgent care center for treatment.

The bill? About 90 bucks.

Paul, just as many of us have, inadvertently learned the where of health care we’re talking about in our smartER campaign. Make sure that you not only have a primary care doctor, but that you make use of him or her for care. And save the emergency room for the really serious stuff.

Photo credit: joeldinda

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