How much does a brain MRI cost? Well, $250 or $1,850, or $8,000

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

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Summary: How much does a brain MRI cost? Well, $250 or $1,850 — or $8,000. “Had a problem with high deductible insurance. I decided not to deal with the insurance and just pay out of my HSA. The bill said my balance was $1850.00, however it also had a handwritten amount of $250.00. Not sure why the discrepancy happened, but the price I paid was $250.00,” said the note on the PriceCheck contribution in our Florida partnership. So I reached out to the contributor to ask about her $250 brain MRI.

 


 

The contributor, Emma, lives in Boynton Beach, Fla. She shared a price to our PriceCheck partnership in Florida with WLRN public radio in Miami, WUSF public radio in Tampa Bay, and their parthership, Health News Florida. (I told her I would not use her last name to maintain her privacy.) She told us that she went to a provider near her home with an MRI prescription, having used the insurer’s price calculator, and was told the price would be $355.

But when she got there, she asked the same question and was told now it’s $1,850. The provider said the doctor hadn’t given an insurance referral, so the price was much higher.

She knew she’d be paying out of her Health Savings Account, and she asked if that was the final price. When the bill came, a handwritten adjustment said “I only owe $250,” she said. She also sent the final bill, which is included here.

It’s possible that she is being asked to pay the allowed amount (also called the negotiated rate or contract rate) from her insurer, UnitedHealthcare, to the provider, but that’s certainly not clear. What is clear is that she was told several different things: $355, $1,850 and $250. What would have happened if she hadn’t asked? It’s impossible to say.

It’s also true that what her insurer’s price calculator said doesn’t mean much. We hear that a lot from people; here’s another case, and still another.

“That’s why i signed up for your thing — I think it’s awesome,” she said in a phone interview. “I have a lot of medical bills and it really sucks. I have a new consumer-driven health plan, and I have a health savings account. I think i will save a lot of money.”

She said she paid $400 for the same procedure last year.

We have also heard $8,000 for a brain MRI, from Martha Bebinger, a reporter at WBUR public radio in Boston. She wrote about her experiences in this article, and discussed her experiences with an NPR colleague in this interview.