How much does an MRI cost?

Filed Under: Costs

We like price lists. So it’s not surprising that we found ourselves perusing a California hospital’s list of charges one afternoon.

This is for Cedars-Sinai hospital in Los Angeles, and we focused on one of the prices that we know a lot about: the MRI of the lumbar spine, HCPCS code 72148, without contrast or dye (details are important here). Also we happened to see 72158, MRI of the lumbar spine, with and without contrast or dye.

We know a lot about these prices in New York: the cash prices can be as low as $350, and we’ve heard as high as $3,500, anecdotally. (Check out our MRI price lists here; we’re updating our reporting on “how much does an MRI cost” but this gives you an idea of the range.)

We’ve also written about a $295 MRI provider in southern California, RPN. (Here’s the blog post about them; here’s a list we compiled of MRI providers and prices in Southern California.) (Editor’s note: RPN has closed, as of fall 2013.)

So we were a bit surprised to see that at Cedars-Sinai, the prices for that procedure were what we judge to be really high: $5,973.10 for  “OP/Default Price” and $7,765.03 for “IP/ED price.” We couldn’t find the code explanations, but we are guessing OP is for out patient and IP/ED is Inpatient, Emergency Department.

While we understand a few things about pricing —  the sticker price charged by the hospital is not what they expect to receive from a payer — it’s still startling. Also, hospitals typically charge more than self-standing radiology practices. Still, that’s a lot of money for an MRI.

We found this list of charges on the California State Health Department’s Chargemaster search page.  After looking at several more Chargemasters, I couldn’t find any that had a price listed for that HCPCS code, so we couldn’t compare others.

Still, even with one data point: A lot of money.