How much does an MRI cost?
Different facilities, different machines, different parts of the body. Yikes.
Different facilities (hospital, radiology center, doctor’s office) charge vastly different prices for MRIs. For example, the cash price of a lumbar spine MRI at a hospital in California can reach more than $3,000, while the cash price of the same test at an independent radiology facility can be as low as $400. (For our sampling of cash or self-pay prices of lumbar spine MRIs in the San Francisco area, go here. For our sampling of cash or self-pay prices in the New York area, go here. Using our search tool for Medicare prices, you can see that several providers will undercut the government price, which is interesting.)
There are also private radiology facilities that offer exceptionally low costs, such as $295 at RPN of California, a low-cost MRI services network with headquarters in Ontario, Calif. Read more about RPN on our blog. RPN has also opened facilities in Phoenix and Tempe, Ariz., with low prices for an MRI; the phone number to schedule in Arizona is (602) 714 7804.
Some hospitals and radiology clinics post prices online. At Dartmouth-Hitchcock Medical Center in New Hampshire and Vermont, the price for a spine MRI is listed at $3,693.
At Metro Imaging in St. Louis, the “average charge” for an MRI is listed at $998.
At QuakerBridge Radiology in New Jersey, the self-pay price is $465.
At Denville Diagnostics in Denville, N.J., the self-pay price for an MRI without contrast is $475.
So how can you find a low-cost or affordable MRI if you’re price-sensitive?
Hospitals often charge more and generally ascribe those higher charges to overhead, according to Martha Bebinger, a reporter who specializes in health costs at WBUR radio in Boston, who described her discovery about the cost of an MRI in a radio interview here. (She was charged nearly $8,000 on the bill, but the insurance company paid $1,650 – this is the negotiated price, so called because it’s negotiated by the provider and the insurance company.)
Do you get more if you pay more for an MRI? The answer is maybe. There can be differences in image quality from different machines, though the most expensive ones are not necessarily the best. In addition, the MRI is only as good as the radiologist interpreting the images. Some places which charge more (like hospitals) may have more experienced, expert radiologists. If you doctor orders an MRI, ask him or her to recommend some facilities with the best radiologists — that way you’ll get the most from your MRI.
Depending on your provider, some insurance plans will cover the full cost of an MRI, but only at a participating provider. Some plans will leave you in charge of the co-pay (if applicable). If a provider “participates” in the network your insurance coverage uses, the price can be a negotiated price, which means it’s negotiated by the payer and provider to offer a discount from the sticker price or charged price. For other insurance plans, you may be responsible for a percentage of the sticker price, or a percentage of the negotiated price, or for a fixed co-payment amount, or a full amount until you’ve met your deductible. (Bewildering, yes, we know.)
That’s why it is always important to know your insurance plan thoroughly. If you have questions, ask.
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Next: Part 2 of “How much does an MRI cost?” What kinds of MRI are there, and what additional charges might there be?