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What will happen at the emergency room if I don't have insurance?

Dr. Kathleen Handal, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

If you don’t have insurance, understand that emergency rooms (ERs) have a federal directive under the Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) to screen and stabilize patients to determine if the problem is a medical emergency, regardless of their ability to pay. The definition provided under the statute is: "A medical condition manifesting itself by acute symptoms of sufficient severity (including severe pain) such that the absence of immediate medical attention could reasonably be expected to result in ... placing the health of the individual (or, with respect to a pregnant woman, the health of the woman or her unborn child) in serious jeopardy, serious impairment to bodily functions, or serious dysfunction of any bodily organ or part, or with respect to a pregnant woman who is having contractions -- that there is inadequate time to effect a safe transfer to another hospital before delivery, or that the transfer may pose a threat to the health or safety of the woman or her unborn child."

If you don’t have insurance and are concerned about how you’re going to pay for the visit, you can mention it as you register. Information on assistance may be available. But don’t expect any counseling or answers on this topic from the ER registrar. You can get assistance later on from the hospital’s social worker or someone in the billing office. Your priority now is to be examined and treated.

Doc's ER Survival Guide (DocHandal's Guides)

More About this Book

Doc's ER Survival Guide (DocHandal's Guides)

Few people get through life without at least one trip to the emergency room (ER), either as a patient or support person for a family member or friend. Doc’s ER Survival Guide is designed to help...
Dr. Mark E. Caputo, MD
Emergency Medicine Specialist

Regardless of your ability to pay, all patients presenting to an emergency room (ER) are examined to make sure they don’t have a serious condition. If the ER physician identifies an emergent condition, you will be given the necessary treatment or you will be stabilized. Assuming that no emergency condition exists, you will be referred to a physician or community resource that may be able to assist you further.

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

If you are at the emergency room and you don't have insurance, be reassured that there is no emergency room in the nation that is allowed to turn anyone away because of their ability to pay.

If you have any questions, you go to the emergency department. Do not ever worry about the cost of it because it is a federal law. The Emergency Medical Treatment and Active Labor Act (EMTALA) says, “We will take care of you no matter what your financial circumstances. You will never, ever be turned away because of that.”

Trinity Health is a Catholic health care organization that acts in accordance with the Catholic tradition and does not condone or support all practices covered in this site. In case of emergency call 911. This site is educational and not a substitute for professional medical advice, always seek the advice of a qualified health care provider.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.