You’d Better Shop Around: MRI Pricing Variances

Jane Sarasohn-Kahn

First published 6/30/11 on Health Populi

My mama told me you’d better shop around, as Smokey Robinson also told us. We now know it pays to shop the prices for digital imaging. The price of an MRI of the brain ranges from a low of $825 to a high of $3,600 within the Southeast region of the U.S. In the Northeast, the low is $1,540 and the high, $3,500. There are similar price “spreads” in other regions of the country for the same imaging study, and across other imaging modalities such as PET and CT.

The greatest regional variances by service type are for MRI scans of the brain, varying 747% between a low price of $425 in the Southwest to a high of $3,600 in the Southeast, based on an analysis from change: healthcare‘s Q2 2011 Healthcare Transparency Index.

USA Today reported on this study on June 30, 2011. Christopher Parks, founder of change:healthcare, pointed out that it’s not uncommon to find inter-regional differences of health prices. However, this is happening ”within a 20-mile radius in your own town,” Parks points out based on his firm’s research.

change:healthcare launched the Healthcare Transparency Index (HCTI) in Q4 2010 to analyze health claims data for various health care services and provide health care buyers with data about cost trends. The tool helps people identify savings opportunities for various health care products and services such as prescription drugs, dentistry, physician office visits, physical therapy, and imaging.

The methodology of the Index looked at 12 months of de-personalized demographics and claims information generated by 82,000 employees representing 152,000 lives from over 200 companies that change: healthcare serves.

Heath Populi’s Hot Points: The argument of whether people who get health care in the U.S. are “consumers” or not rages on, from Paul Krugman in the New York Times to a column in Fast Company published this week which talks about the demise of Google health.

change:healthcare’s data demonstrates that there are cost savings to be accrued to health citizens who shop around for digital imaging services. Whether we call these people ‘consumers’ or not, we as patients or caregivers are taking on more financial responsibility for our health care in the forms of premium sharing, co-payments and coinsurance; have more influence on clinical decision making with our physicians when it comes to prescription drug alternatives, therapies and procedures; and must care for aging parents and growing children. Having access to transparent, high-quality, current information on health care costs, quality, and availability — such as that offered by the Healthcare Transparency Index — will inform and aid us in better managing our own health and health care. A just-launched example of this is Robert Wood Johnson’s National Directory for Comparing Health Care Providers, which provides users with details of physician and hospital quality, costs and patient experience survey data.

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