How much your MRI scan will cost varies based on many factors such as your healthcare coverage, insurance provider, the facility's “in-network” status, the radiologist, and the state you live in.
Similarly, the costs can vary further due to factors such as underlying health conditions, the areas being imaging and the need for contrast.
According to Time Magazine, the average cost of an MRI in the United States is $2,611. As the article states, there are many factors for this, and the costs may vary widely from just over a hundred dollars to thousands of dollars.
Understanding more about how much an MRI costs, how to 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 which facility 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 the consumer healthcare company, Amino, that published this infographic of limb MRIs across 129 different insurance companies.
Image Source: Amino (published March 2017 / updated May 2017)
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, causing the costs to mount even 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 is less effective when figuring out the price of an MRI.
Unfortunately, the term 'MRI scan' covers a broad range of procedures. 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 insurance company sees the MRI scan you're undergoing as necessary.
Finally, many insurance plans require various deductibles prior to obtaining a certain level of benefits. This may also impact your MRI costs.
MRI costs can change based upon the procedures
About one in three MRIs requires a contrast agent. 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. When you add in small elements such as these three, the price of an MRI can be impacted.
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. In order to have an MRI scan with one of these devices, the device must be deemed MR-Conditional or MR-Safe by the FDA.
Do your homework
With so many factors playing into the cost of an MRI, it's no wonder it varies so wildly. 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, detailed and personal, including the specific procedure you’ve been prescribed and your insurance provider.
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:
- Research in-network facilities in the provider directory on your insurer’s website.
- Call each facility to request an estimate based.
- Make sure to provide them with your insurance company and coverage.
- 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.
- Why does an MRI Cost So Darn Much? Time Magazine. http://time.com/money/2995166/why-does-mri-cost-so-much/. Last accessed July 23, 2019.
- Announcing nationwide imaging cost estimates on amino. amino.com. https://amino.com/blog/announcing-nationwide-imaging-cost-estimates-on-amino/. Last accessed May 2018.
- Prepare for Magnetic Resonance Imaging (MRI). Radiology.UCSF.edu. https://radiology.ucsf.edu/patient-care/prepare/mri. Last accessed July 23, 2019.
Updated July 23, 2019.