When a doctor’s recommendation turns into $2,380 in bills, or how much does an MRI cost?

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

A community member shared with us the bare bones of a story: Two MRI bills at an imaging center in Scarborough, Maine, resulted in a bill for $2,380.

“Doctor advised ‘spinal MRI’,  no indication given that procedure would be expensive or be billed separately for thoracic and lumbar regions of the spine,” wrote the community member, who left no name or email.

The charge for each was $1,400, of which UnitedHealthCare’s rate is $1,190 for each, and that’s what the community member was asked to pay.

How much does an MRI usually cost? Well, it depends on the type of MRI, and where you are having it. So you have to know the medical code (usually a 5-digit code, called CPT or HCPCS) to know for sure. Hospitals tend to be more expensive; self-standing radiology centers less expensive. We’ve heard as low as $255 and as high as $13,389. You can search national prices on our share/search form here.

What we recommend: Before any procedure, ask the 10 questions in this post, including “What will that cost? What will that cost me, on my insurance? What’s your cash price? Would you please put that in writing?” Take names, take numbers, take notes.

If you get a bill you don’t like, here are some suggestions for arguing a bill on the back end.