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Vox: Emergency rooms are monopolies. Patients pay the price.

By: Sarah Kliff 

Around 1 am on August 20, Ismael Saifan woke up with a terrible pain in his lower back, likely the result of moving furniture earlier that day.

"It was a very sharp muscle pain," Saifan, a 39-year-old engineer, remembers. "I couldn't move or sleep in any position. I was trying laying down, sitting down, nothing worked."

Saifan went online to figure out where he could see a doctor. The only place open at that hour was Overland Park Regional Medical Center in his hometown of Overland Park, Kansas.

The doctor checked his blood pressure, asked about the pain, and gave him a muscle relaxant. The visit was quick and easy, lasting about 20 minutes.

But Saifan was shocked when he received bills totaling $2,429.84.