Feature Article

How Much Does An MRI Cost?

How much your MRI scan will cost varies according to many factors such as your healthcare coverage, insurance provider, whether the facility you go to is “in-network,” who is reading and analyzing the data, and which state you live in.

Similarly, when you throw in factors such as underlying health conditions, the areas your doctor is imaging, and whether they need to use a contrast, the costs can vary further.

According to Time Magazine, the average cost of an MRI in the United States is $2,611. As the article correctly states, there are many factors for this and the costs may vary widely from just over a hundred dollars to many thousands of dollars.

Understanding more about how much an MRI costs, how obtain estimates prior to the procedure, and why the prices vary can help to ensure that you minimize your out-of-pocket costs.

First, your MRI costs can vary according to where you visit

There may be a difference in costs based on whether you go to a hospital or an imaging center.

Because imaging centers have a sole focus, this can impact the amount of overhead they have, the kind of insurance they take, the expertise and training of the staff that work there, and the process during procedures.

MRI costs vary between states

While someone living in Washington may pay less than $1000, a person living in Alaska may pay as much as $4000. This is according to Amino, a consumer healthcare company that produced this infographic of limb MRIs across 129 different insurance companies.

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Image Source: Amino (published March, 2017 / updated May 2017)

Again, the reasons behind this variation in cost are complex. It may be that there are fewer places to access MRIs in Alaska, making them pricier. Or, other confounding factors such as the reasons for Alaska's population seeking MRIs could make their average prices rise.

It's also worth bearing in mind that the hospital you're visiting will choose a specific machine. Medicine advances all the time, which means some machines have different costs than others.

Similarly, an advanced MRI machine may require a highly-qualified radiologist to read the results. As a result, the costs mount further.

How much you pay for your MRI can vary according to healthcare coverage

Many people who spend time trying to find out how much their MRI will cost find themselves facing a lack of answers. If you usually use a cost estimator tool to determine the price of your medical care, you may find it isn't as effective when figuring out the price of an MRI.

Unfortunately, the term 'MRI scan' covers a broad range of procedures. As such, unless you know the exact intricacies of said procedure, you might struggle to find an online estimate.

What's more, your out-of-pocket costs are dependent on whether your healthcare provider sees the MRI scan you're undergoing as necessary.

Finally, many insurance plans require various deductibles prior to paying a certain level of benefits. This may also impact your MRI costs.

MRI costs can change based upon the procedures

Around one in three MRIs requires a contrast agent. When you add in small elements such as these, the price of an MRI can be impacted. Additionally, if you require a sedative, that can contribute to the cost as well.

If your MRI is particularly intricate, it may require the attention of a specialist radiologist that can impact the cost as well.

Finally, as the University of California points out, your doctor may have to adjust your MRI time and conditions if you have certain devices. Pacemakers and cochlear implants are just two of the devices that can make MRIs trickier than usual.

Similarly, if you have a joint replacement, this may warrant the attention of a specialist radiologist, which again, may cost more.

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Do your homework

With so many factors playing into the cost of an MRI, it's no wonder it varies so wildly.

And that’s why the best way to really know the cost of your MRI is simply to get an estimate. You want to make sure that the estimates you obtain are specific and detailed, based on you, the specific procedure you’ve been prescribed, and your insurance.

To obtain an accurate estimate, you will need your prescription or details of the image your doctor has requested, your health insurance card and some time:

  1. Research in-network facilities in the provider directory on your insurer’s website
  2. Call each facility to request an estimate based
  3. Make sure to provide them with your insurance company and coverage
  4. Take detailed notes in order to compare the estimates with your final bill

Keep in mind, that after the procedure, you may receive and Explanation of Benefits (EOB) that will state that “This Is Not A Bill.” Some time later, you should receive the actual bill that you can use to compare to your notes.