I mentioned in a recent post that my wife has been dealing with chronic headaches for quite a while. She’s been to her doctor about it, and they’ve changed some medications (which had no effect on the headaches) and ran blood tests (which all came back normal). The next course of action is to have an MRI done and see if it shows anything.
So today is Valentine’s Day, and I’m sitting in the waiting area while my wife is getting her MRI. On the one hand, I hope they find something. Then we’d at least know the reason behind her headaches and could look at treatment options. On the other hand, I don’t really want them to find anything. While the unknown can certainly be scary, actually knowing that something is wrong inside my wife’s head would be just as scary if not scarier. In any case, we’ll see what they find.
This is the first time that either my wife or I have had an MRI, and I was amazed at the cost differential across different facilities. Originally, her doctor scheduled the MRI at a local hospital. A couple of days later, my wife received a call from our insurance company telling her about several other MRI facilities that provide the same scan for less than half the price.
My wife and I have had pretty good luck with our health (knock on wood). We haven’t had any major operations (other than pregnancy), so I’m not very knowledgeable about insurance and doctors and hospitals.
But back to the insurance company, an MRI at the hospital would cost $1,900. With our deductible and co-insurance, this would result in an out-of-pocket cost of around $750. There was another facility where an MRI would cost $600. This would result in an out-of-pocket cost of $425. This is $325 less than the MRI at the hospital.
We went ahead and scheduled the MRI at the less expensive facility, and I did some research. Essentially, an MRI is a standard test. Whether its done at a hospital, clinic, or standalone MRI facility, the test is the same. All MRI technicians have to meet certain requirements to be able to administer and MRI, and radiologists have to meet certain standards to read the test results. No matter the facility, you can be assures that qualified individuals are handling the scan.
The primary cost factor for an MRI is the cost of the MRI machines. Hospitals typically have the latest and greatest MRI machines, which cost millions of dollars. The thing is, since hospitals are always competing with other hospitals, they want to be able to say their MRI machines are the best in the area. So every couple of years they upgrade the machines. It’s not really because the old machines weren’t providing accurate results, but so they can maintain their status as having the “best” machines.
The question becomes, is it worth paying so much more money to have a scan on the newest model of machine, when a slightly lesser model still performs well? Is it really adding enough value to warrant the price?
Ultimately we didn’t think it was, so we went for the lower cost facility, and saved $325. Some people might say I’m just “being cheap” and should have had the scan at the hospital. But since there are certain standards that must be met, I’m not sacrificing anything by choosing the less expensive facility.
Have any of you had experience with anything similar? Would you have gone to the lower-cost facility or just stuck with hospital?