(Updated March 2022) We received this email in connection with our Cracking the Code partnership in New Orleans:
My doctor at Tulane University Medical Center had suggested an abdominal MRI as part of a portfolio of check-ups to better understand the possible trajectory of a hereditary condition that might affect me.
I’m 27 years old, and wanted to know more, and so I said sure, let’s do it.
About a month later, on the day before my procedure would take place, I got a call from Tulane asking how I planned to pay for my MRI the following morning.
“How much is it?” I asked.
“Well, your deductible is $5,000,” I was told.
“Yes, but how much is the procedure,” I asked again.
“Your deductible is $5,000, ma’am,” came the response.
We played this merry-go-round game of call and response for about 10 minutes before the caller gave up, saying she’d call later with the cost of the procedure I’d otherwise be undergoing just 18 hours later. She finally did: I would be asked to pay $4,458 for an abdominal MRI without contrast, which really should have been higher, but I’d already met a couple hundred worth of my deductible.
Thanks to reporting by Jed Lipinksi at NOLA.com | The Times-Picayune, Lee Zurik at WVUE Fox 8 in New Orleans and their use of the tools provided by ClearHealthCosts, I checked the prices of similar MRIs in my area. The price discrepancy was so great — I was quoted a number about 10 times higher than the average I was seeing on ClearHealthCosts’ app — I was sure I was using it incorrectly.
To test my theory, I requested the CPT and diagnostic codes my doctor listed at Tulane and called Doctors Imaging in Metairie, one of the services listed on the application.
I was wrong: Tulane was just that much more expensive.
I ended up canceling the appointment the following morning and made one for a week later at Doctors Imaging. In the end, I paid $672.68 for the exact same service for which Tulane wanted to charge me $4,458.
It was an incredible lesson: Within the span of a few hours, I went from panicking and wondering whether I really needed this procedure at all — and questioning having tested myself to get this diagnosis so early — to feeling confident in the knowledge health care can provide.
(Update: She tells us that Doctors Imaging was also in-network, and that the $672.68 did indeed count against her deductible.)
For more from our series, go to this page describing the Cracking the Code partnership of NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune, WVUE FOX 8 Live and ClearHealthCosts, and cataloging our news coverage. For more on our national partnerships, go to this page.
HOW CAN YOU SAVE money on health costs? Here are our “10 questions to ask” — with a link to posts on how to argue a bill or a denial.
DID YOU SAVE money with information from ClearHealthCosts or “Cracking the Code”? Tell us by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
DO YOU HAVE PRICES to share to help build our community-created guide to health care? Or are you looking for price information?
Click over to our New Orleans PriceCheck interactive software at WVUE Fox 8 Live and at NOLA.com I The Times-Picayune. Search our prices in our New Orleans-focused partnership. For non-New Orleans shares and searches, here’s the search and share page on our national ClearHealthCosts site.
ARE YOU A PROVIDER wishing to share prices?
This page has a sample spreadsheet showing the data that will let us include your prices. Download, fill it out and return to us at firstname.lastname@example.org or email@example.com.
To discuss a potential partnership, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 ClearHealthCosts.
She was previously a fellow at the Tow Center for Digital Journalism at the Columbia University School of Journalism. ClearHealthCosts has won grants from the Tow-Knight Center for Entrepreneurial Journalism at the Craig Newmark Graduate School of Journalism at the City University of New York; the International Women’s Media Foundation; the John S. and James L. Knight Foundation with KQED public radio in San Francisco and KPCC in Los Angeles; the Lenfest Foundation in Philadelphia for a partnership with The Philadelphia Inquirer; and the New York State Health Foundation for a partnership with WNYC public radio/Gothamist in New York; and other honors.
Her TED talk about fixing health costs has surpassed 2 million views.