Why the cost of exams has gone through the roof
The average price of an MRI scan in the United States is $2,611. Let that sink in for a minute. Why is the price of an MRI exam so high?
The answer is simple. There is currently a monopoly in the market because there are only a handful of companies making traditional MRI machines. These machines can also cost upwards of $3 million dollars, and there are a number of other factors that go into the price patients pay for an MRI such as:
- Size of the MRI System and its features
- Cooling systems
- Special room that costs hundreds of dollars to build
- Cost of real-estate required for placing the systems and its additional cooling systems and electronics
- Ongoing maintenance
- The power the machine consumes
- The number of experienced and qualified staff members the hospital or clinic has to operate the MRI at a given time
In short, MRIs are so expensive because there is so little competition in the market. This concept is as simple as supply and demand. When you have a surplus, things are typically less expensive, and when there is a limited quantity due to high demand, things get pricier. Healthcare providers have also been faced with a challenge that 100 years ago they would’ve never imagined. They now have to consider overhead and how to turn a profit to keep their practice afloat, with a lot of moving parts in between.
Physicians must also factor in monthly costs associated with having a fully-functional MRI machine in their facility, annual and emergency service costs, the number of qualified staff members who can operate the MRI machinery, the amount of space the machine will take up and, lastly, how much power the machine itself will consume.
Thankfully, there are a few hacks one should consider before having an MRI which should lead to a less expensive MRI exam.
Avoid Overpaying for an exam: Consult with your healthcare provider, as important questions such as: how much of my exam will be covered under my current healthcare plan? How much will I be expected to contribute? Do I have payment options? This will vary based on the kind of healthcare plan you have, be it high or low deductible. If you find that the cost of the MRI far exceeds what you can afford, there are also a number of programs available to assist with medical bills for necessary procedures.
High vs. low deductible plans: You should also know the ins and outs of your current medical plan and reach out to your healthcare provider to ensure you know exactly what is and is not covered. After all, you are paying for it each month, so you’ll want to know what you can take advantage of without paying astronomical fees you previously assumed were covered but weren’t.
This is also where knowing if you have a high deductible or low deductible plan comes into play. Both plans have their perks, but a high deductible plan means you are responsible for a greater portion of your healthcare costs which saves them money and also comes with a lower monthly payment. Whereas a low deductible plan means you’ll pay a higher monthly premium but are responsible for less of your healthcare costs upfront.
Know your options: In the end, if an MRI just isn’t quite within your budget, you should know, you do have options. In some cases, an MRI is not always necessary, but getting care is critical, especially if internal damage is suspected. MRI is proven to be safe, reliable, accurate, providing imaging results far superior to any other known imaging methods, such as X-ray or a CT scan, while being exposed to their radiation can be harmful.
Ultimately physicians and hospital administrators must ask themselves at what expense are they willing to sacrifice patients leaving due to high costs. They should also consider when to shift focus on what is most important, keeping exams affordable and focusing on quality of life / care for patients. Companies who create MRI technology and manufacture them as well hold even more of a special responsibility. This comes down to ethics, as making money isn’t everything, and it’s just one component of the overall picture.