How much does an MRI cost? 7 U.S. databases that can help

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

Price lists for medical treatment are just about our favorite thing over here at ClearHealthCosts. We think people should be able to know what stuff costs in health care, and anything that sheds light on that — however fragmentary or imperfect — is good, as far as we’re concerned.

We’ve collected some resources, and are working on making them more user-friendly. Meanwhile, here’s a list of seven U.S. Government databases that have a lot of information.

These price lists vary a great deal by geographical area, and they can be mind-numbing to use. There should be a better way.

Some of the numbers are inexplicably high or low, as you can see if you use our interactive PriceMap. Here’s the FAQ for the PriceMap, which tells you a lot of how we think about big databases of this sort.

The Medicare home page. A comprehensive resource for all costs pertaining to Medicare and Medicaid, compiled by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services. Medicare and Medicaid reimbursement rates are set by the government and are a benchmark of sorts for costs of care. These databases are huge and hard to use; there should be a better way.

Medicare’s physician fee schedule search tool. This tells you what Medicare pays for procedures. Often payment rates from insurers, doctors, hospitals and other providers are based on these tables. Some providers have a sliding scale based on hardship that depends on this data.

This price list is about the closest thing you can get to standardized pricing in health care in this country. More about the list:

“It provides more than 10,000 physician services, the associated relative value units, a fee schedule status indicator and various payment policy indicators needed for payment adjustment (i.e., payment of assistant at surgery, team surgery, bilateral surgery, etc.),” the home page says. “The Medicare physician fee schedule pricing amounts are adjusted to reflect the variation in practice costs from area to area.”

The search of this database is done through Current Procedural Terminology codes, licensed by the AMA. Here’s a link to the terms-of-use page that precedes the actual search.

A Health Care Consumer Initiatives page. Here the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services lists its big databases of prices it pays for selected procedures across the nation annually, broken down by hospital inpatient, hospital outpatient, ambulatory surgical center and physician fees.

These price lists vary a great deal by geographical area, and they can be mind-numbing to use. Maybe you heard us mention: There should be a better way.

The list of selected ambulatory surgical center prices from  the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The list of selected outpatient procedure prices from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The list of selected inpatient procedure prices from the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

The list of selected doctor’s prices from the  Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.