patient costs

Summary: A Pittsburgh hospital has rolled out a price transparency tool. It’s interesting not just because it is an official hospital estimate of cash or self-pay pricing, but also because the hospital offers a “point of service” discount — and also because their partner in creating this tool is Experian Health, a wing of the credit and financial services giant Experian.


Here’s the estimate for an MRI of the lower back without contrast, code 72148:

Your estimated cost = $653.40

“Point of Service” discount – $98.01

Your cost after discount = $555.39

I did the uninsured version of the search, because we know a fair amount about MRI pricing. For a hospital, $555.39 is a reasonably low charge for that particular MRI. A standalone radiology center might be less expensive. Here’s an earlier blog post from us about the costs of an MRI.

Their price for a Complete Blood Count (CBC) with differential is $13, which is one of the lower ones we’ve seen. A screening mammogram at $57.88 is also quite low.

A colonoscopy at $544.94  is an incredibly low price. We should all go to Pittsburgh for our colonoscopies. Here’s an earlier blog post from us about the cost of a colonoscopy.

Since I don’t have insurance in Pittsburgh, I can’t say how good or how bad the results are for that, but this does point to the question we are often asked “Is it legal to reveal cash prices?” Of course it is. And a 15 percent cash discount is not a hefty one, but it’s meaningful.

Here’s part of the press release about the tool.

“St. Clair Hospital and Experian Health, the dedicated healthcare business of Experian, today introduced a cost transparency tool available through a patient-friendly portal on the Hospital’s website, Patients now have the ability to learn, in advance, what their estimated out-of-pocket cost will be for services at the Hospital or its Outpatient Centers. …

“The tool is not a list of charges, but an interactive and user-friendly tool that provides information that is highly specific to the individual. Estimates are designed to determine, in advance, each patient’s out-of-pocket costs (deductibles, co-pays, and co-insurance) for services at St. Clair based upon his/her insurance coverage. The estimates also incorporate St. Clair’s discounts for payment on the date of service and for those without insurance. The estimates remain in the system and can be recalled for future reference.”

Jeanne Pinder

Jeanne Pinder  is the founder and CEO of ClearHealthCosts. She worked at The New York Times for almost 25 years as a reporter, editor and human resources executive, then volunteered for a buyout and founded...