Photo of person in MRI tube

(Updated 2022) How much does a joint MRI of an upper extremity cost, $350 or $1,000? He told the billing department the price was too high, and they dropped it. Who knew? When you tell the woman in billing department the price is too high, maybe she’ll drop it for you.

The community member shared on our partner’s site about an MRI in Westlake Village, near Los Angeles — and we learned that when he told the office person he was not going to have the MRI because of the price, she dropped the charge from $1,000 to $350.

Here’s the share:

PROCEDURE: 73221 Mri joint upr extrem w/o dye

CHARGED: 350.0
PAID: 350.0

SHARE DATE: 2019-03-11 22:11:23 UTC

HOSPITAL: Renaissance Imaging Centers Westlake Village

He added: “W/ Insurance it was going to be a little over $1000 b/c it was priced at $1030 and my insurance had a $1000/deductible.”

I asked him a few questions. Here’s our exchange.

“I found the website through a Google search for a query something like ‘How much does it cost to get an MRI in Los Angeles?’ which I typed in after my shock of being told my two prescribed MRIs would be over $2000 total, with over $1000 cost to me because of the need to pay off my Anthem Blue Cross deductible. I had explained to the prescribing doctor that costs were a real issue to me, as despite being a professional class worker, like the majority of Americans I’m reduced to living month-to-month in constant debt.”

1. From your note, I think you paid cash instead of running it through your insurance. Is that correct? So you paid $350 instead of the $1,030?

“I paid cash for one MRI and cancelled the other because I could not afford $700 out of pocket at this time.”

2. How did you find this out — how did the conversation go? And with whom did you speak?

“I first spoke with someone in the billing department who clarified that my insurance would authorize the procedures (Anthem would).

“She then explained when I asked about the expected costs that she would need to look into that further. She contacted me again relatively shortly and told me the news above in the first paragraph.

“I was somewhat shocked and said I would need to think about whether to keep the appointment. At that point she said there was the possibility of getting a reduced rate if I paid cash. I begged off at that point and said I wasn’t interested and said I’d have to think about it, which I did for a few hours.

“It was at this point that I started googling MRI costs and learned the valuable literacy that there is in fact a marketplace for this work and that it appears to be negotiated and have different price schedules depending upon whether one involves insurance (what a racket!). Finally, after seeing a variety of costs online and investigating the website, I decided to cancel the appointment.

“When I called to cancel, the front office person with whom I spoke again mentioned that if cost was a concern that I could pay cash. I then said, knowing some of what people were being charged for similar procedures in the greater LA area, ‘Yeah, and what would that cost then?’ She said $350 and I told her, ‘Okay, I’ll do one.’

3. If you indeed paid cash, did they tell you this will not be counted as part of your deductible?

“I did, and I believe the initial person who had offered the cash discount mentioned perhaps that since it wouldn’t involve insurance, I wouldn’t be paying down the deductible (a consideration). Either way, I felt it was pretty obvious that if I’m not using insurance then it is not paying down my deductible.”

4. Anything else we need to know?

“The provider seemed quite professional onsite. I was asked to give my full insurance information and a copy of my Anthem card despite being a cash customer.”


Related posts:

Part 1: How to find out what stuff costs in health care.

Part 2: How to argue a bill.

Part 3: Appealing a denial, or how to turn a “no” into a “yes.”

Negotiating a bill.

How to save money on prescriptions.

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...