by Aidan Kang, CFA
Senior Writer
Insurance
UPDATED: October 21, 2021

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has become an essential part of modern-day medicine. It’s a test to get detailed images of the tissues and organs in the body. 

Your doctor might have asked you to get an MRI to determine if you’re suffering from tumors, abnormalities, injuries, or other medical conditions. However, getting an MRI isn’t cheap.

You might have been worried about the cost of an MRI, especially if you don’t have insurance.

Here, we’ll discuss the average cost of an MRI, factors that affect its cost, and how to get it cheaper.

MRI Cost Without Insurance

Different types of MRIs have very different costs depending on your needs. 

The biggest factors affecting costs are:

  • which part of the body is receiving the MRI scan, 
  • the state you’re getting the MRI done in
  • the type of facility that’s administering the test. 

As a result, the cost of an MRI scan without insurance can range from $1,000 to $5,000.

MRI Cost With Insurance

MRI scans are usually covered by your health insurance as long as it’s required by your physician. 

Insurance plans aren’t created equal, but in most cases, you only need to cover the cost of your office visit copay once you’ve met your deductible. The average deductibles range from $4,000 to $8,000, while visit copay ranges from $15 to $50.

Where you choose to get the procedure is also a factor that needs to be considered. Health insurance providers often negotiate how much they’ll pay with hospitals. Therefore, the price you’ll pay will depend on the hospital where you choose to have the MRI scan.

MRI Cost With Medicare

If you have Medicare, MRI scans are also covered as long as your doctor asked for it. But unlike with health insurance coverage, only a percentage of the MRI cost will be covered. 

How much you’ll pay will depend on the type of Medicare you have, Original Medicare or the Medicare Advantage plan. Patients may only pay an average of $8 if the test is taken from a non-hospital facility and $16 if in the hospital, according to Medicare.gov’s Procedure Price Lookup.

MRI Cost Without Insurance for Different Body Parts

MRI costs vary depending on which part of your body needs imaging. The average costs for different parts of the body are as follow:

Brain MRI$1,600 – $8,400
Neck MRI$500 – $11,800
Chest MRI$500 – $7,900
Breast MRI$500 – $10,300
Abdominal MRI$1,600 – $7,600
Pelvic MRI$500 – $7,900
MRI of the upper extremity$1,050 – $7,000
MRI of the lower extremity$975 – $6,300
Cardiac MRI$430 – $6,500
Bone MRI$410 – $2,100

Source: https://www.itnonline.com/content/mri-costs

How to Find Lower MRI Costs?

The cost of an MRI scan varies greatly, so you need to shop around to get the cheapest price. Don’t overpay! Here are some tips:

1. Get Your MRI In A State Where It’s Cheaper

The state where you’re located will have an effect on the MRI cost without insurance. A 2017 report by Amino showed that patients may pay up to $4,000 for an MRI scan while those in Washington will only pay $1,000.

Source: Amino via https://www.gehealthcare.com/article/how-much-does-an-mri-cost

2. Go to an Independent Imaging Facility

An independent imaging center offers more affordable MRI scans than hospitals. At an independent imaging center, they’ll use the equipment several times a day, which means they could distribute the cost to several patients. On the other hand, hospitals may not use their MRI equipment as often as those in independent imaging centers and that results in higher costs.

Both hospitals and independent imaging facilities accommodate patients who need an MRI but don’t have insurance coverage. They may offer discounts if you pay in cash or a payment plan if you can’t pay the balance all at once.

3. Don’t Go to the Emergency Room

Don’t get an MRI scan at the emergency room. The ER needs to pay for their staff and cover the costs for the maintenance of their hardware and the department in general. If possible, get your MRI scan at a different place like an imaging center.

What Are the Other Factors that Affect the MRI Cost?

There are other factors that affect the price of an MRI scan, such as the radiologist used, the area to be imaged, and the available imaging technologies.

MRI Costs With Sedative

If you’re claustrophobic, feel anxious, or unable to hold still, you may be injected with a mild sedative called Diprivan. This medicine will add about $125 to $400 to the overall cost of your MRI scan.

MRI costs With and Without Contrast

Most MRI costs are without contrast, which means no special dye is injected into your body through an intravenous line. The dye will help enhance the image generated by the MRI machine. Adding the dye isn’t always necessary. Only 5% to 10% of patients needing an MRI scan require the contrast. If you need one, your MRI costs will increase by around $100 to $300.

When Should You Pay Cash Instead Of Using Your Insurance?

You should consider your deductible first before you choose between going the cash route or the insurance route. A deductible is an amount you, as the insurance policyholder, need to pay before your insurance coverage kicks in. If your deductible is too high and you don’t think you can meet it, then pay cash instead and take advantage of the cash rates offered by the facility or hospital.

For instance, an independent imaging facility charges insurance $900 for an MRI and a discounted rate of $400 for cash payments. If your deductible is higher than the cash rate, then you should choose the cash route instead.

Why Is an MRI So Expensive?

MRI machines are complex, innovative, and expensive equipment used in clinics and hospitals. An average MRI machine costs more than $1 million, which explains the steep price of an MRI scan. Aside from the machine, there are other factors that affect the cost of the scan, such as the cost of the gadolinium contrast agent, medical staff, and other administrative costs.

Conclusion

Learning the cost of MRI with or without insurance can help you find the best prices in your area. Understanding the factors that affect the price will also help you find the cheapest price. Do your research first so that you don’t overpay!

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