Planning for the Cost of an MRI, CT Scan, or Other Diagnostic Procedure

Health care isn’t cheap in America, nor is it very transparent, and diagnostic procedures are no exception to this rule. X-rays, CT scans, and echocardiograms are going to cost you a pile of money before you even start getting around to fixing whatever problems they might find — and the cost of these procedures can vary tremendously. The cost of an MRI, for example, can run anywhere from $400 to $3,500, according to Angie’s List — making it both expensive and unpredictable.

What’s more, if the doctor doesn’t find anything wrong from the diagnostic procedure, you might have to get another one because he still won’t know how to treat you. The cost of CT scans and other diagnostic procedures can start adding up very quickly. Here’s how to plan and pay for yours.

You may be really stressed out, but the fact is that if you’re planning ahead, you’re probably in a much better position than a lot of other people. So relax. Take a deep breath. And read our guide on planning and paying for diagnostic procedures.

Step 1: Check Your Insurance

The first question you need to ask is, What does your health insurance cover? And the second is, What is your network like? Who can do the procedure? Do you have to go through several primary care appointments before you can get the procedure done?

Many Americans have little or no coverage when they go outside of their HMO network, so you need to make sure that wherever you go falls within your network if possible. That can take a big chunk out of what you’re going to owe.

You can also offer to pay up front in cash — especially if you end up out-of-network. Sometimes that upfront cash discount is as much as 30% of the total cost of the procedure.

Step 2: Shop Around

Remember what we said about your network and cash discounts? Well, not all facilities are created equally. So call around, shop around, and see what’s out there in terms of pricing.

Some places are going to charge more than others. You don’t necessarily want to bargain shop when it comes to a diagnostic procedure — you always want to get the best quality of care. However, even with that as a given, you might find that some places are going to charge much less than others for what amounts to the same thing. And the “less” that they charge can be significant – hundreds or even thousands of dollars – when it comes to being able to reasonably afford the procedure.

Ask for estimates based on insurance coverage as well as cash payments. Write them down, compare, and then negotiate with the top three, asking each to try and beat the others’ estimates.

Step 3: Don’t Forget to Get Prior Authorization

If you’re going through your insurance company, it’s important to get prior authorization. If you don’t, you might end up paying for the whole thing out of pocket. Not fun.

Step 4: How Much Did That MRI Cost? Get a Fully Itemized Bill

Before you pay a dime, get an itemized bill. You should be able to see everything that you’re paying for and have it explained to you. Otherwise, you might be paying for stuff that makes no sense, that shouldn’t be on the bill, or that you just don’t understand.

You have a right to an itemized bill and it’s just common courtesy to have it explained to you by someone who understands it. You wouldn’t be the first person to see confusing or questionable items on your bill that make no sense to you. And anything that shouldn’t be on your bill can be taken off, saving you even more money.

Follow these steps, and don’t be surprised if you end up paying hundreds of dollars less for a diagnostic procedure than you might have otherwise expected to. That will make saving up for the procedure far less daunting, allowing you more energy to rest up.