How Much Does an MRI Cost?

by Nick Versaw Updated November 19th, 2021

Patient getting an MRI

If your doctor orders an MRI, it can sound scary, even without considering the bill.

Navigating medical billing can be tricky, and there’s a lot of factors that go into determining how much an MRI will cost you. But all hope isn’t lost, and an upcoming MRI doesn’t have to leave your pockets empty. In this article, we’ll break down the cost of an MRI and show you how to make sure you’re getting the best deal.

What is an MRI?

Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) is a medical imaging procedure that takes pictures of internal body structures. It’s most often used to detect injuries to bones, nerves, and tissues; find infections; or locate tumors. Often, an MRI gives doctors more information (and a clearer picture) than an ultrasound or X-ray.

The process of getting an MRI is pretty straightforward. The patient lies on a table that slowly passes through a long chamber equipped with magnets and radio waves. These devices work in tandem to provide accurate images of your body. The process is painless and quick — most scans take 15 to 60 minutes. Check out this UCSF article for a full overview of the MRI process.

Ballpark Cost of an MRI

MRIs can cost anywhere from free, with the right insurance, to $8,000 or more without insurance. The biggest determining factor on how it’ll impact your wallet is whether you are insured, on Medicare, or uninsured. Let’s break down each circumstance.

With Insurance

As long as your physician medically recommends them, MRIs are typically covered by health insurance. While all insurance plans are slightly different, after meeting your deductible, you should expect to only pay for your office visit copay.

The one big factor that can affect your cost is where you choose to get your procedure. What your health insurance pays is often negotiated directly with the hospital, so your price can vary depending on which hospital you choose. If you want to make sure you’re getting the best deal, we recommend looking up the procedure codes on findacode.com. When you call a facility’s billing department to discuss pricing, give them these codes to get the quickest answer.

With Medicare

Similar to private insurance, Medicare covers MRIs when they are deemed medically necessary by your provider. But unlike with insurance, only a percentage of your total may be covered. What you’ll ultimately pay depends on whether you have Original Medicare or the Medicare Advantage plan.

For example, Medicare Part A covers inpatient hospital care, meaning if you’re hospitalized prior to the MRI, you’re likely covered. Medicare Part B, in contrast, covers most medically necessary procedures, including 80% of the cost of an MRI as long as the facility accepts Medicare patients. You’ll just pay your Part B deductible, which sets you back $203 in 2021.

While your specific Medicare plan may vary your pricing, Medicare.gov’s Procedure Price Lookup site shows that patients pay an average of only $8 for an MRI at a non-hospital facility and $16 at a hospital.

Without Insurance

The most expensive way to pay for an MRI is definitely out of pocket. Without insurance, the total cost for an MRI can be between $1,000 to $5,000.

Exactly what you’ll pay will depend on which body part(s) you need imaging of and whether or not there are follow-up procedures ordered as part of the imaging. As a general rule, you can expect to pay within these ranges for each body part:

Typical MRI costs for different body parts:

  • Brain: $1,600 – $8,400
  • Neck: $500 – $11,800
  • Abdomen: $1,600 – $7,600
  • Pelvis: $500 – $7,900
  • Chest/ Thorax: $500 – $7,900
  • Breast: $500- $10,300

Certain MRI procedures involve additional exploration. If, for example, your doctor orders an MRI with contrast, where dye is injected into the area to be imaged for clarity, you may be charged for IV placement and dye usage.

If you don’t have insurance, don’t panic. Several things that can significantly lower your cost. First, do your due diligence and shop around. Some facilities offer special payment programs or huge discounts for cash-pay patients.

If all else fails, you can also check out public funding and donation sites like GiveForward.com. The fundraising platform offers financial support to cover the costs of procedures for low-income patients.

Additional Factors that Can Impact MRI Cost

MRI medical bill on a doctor's desk

While your insurance status is the largest factor in your MRI cost, as with most medical procedures, the pricing is not one flat fee. Instead, the final figure is made up of multiple components, like the radiologist used, region of the country, area to be imaged, and the type of imaging technologies available.

The reason MRIs can be so expensive is due to machine purchasing and upkeep. To purchase an MRI unit costs between $1 million to $3 million. Once acquired, the equipment must be kept in very specific, sterile, temperature-controlled conditions for optimal function. These costs are often passed down to patients.

Likewise, the facility you go to can affect your cost. An MRI will typically be cheaper at an independent imaging center versus a hospital. This is because at an independent center, the cost of housing the MRI can be distributed over more patients, with the machine working many hours a day. In contrast, at a large facility like a hospital, the MRI may only be used a few times a week, although housing and maintenance costs are the same.

Finally, where you live in the country can wildly affect your costs, partly due to the cost of living and prices of utilities factoring into the machine’s maintenance.

Find the Best Price for an MRI with Compare.com

Understanding what contributes to MRI cost is only a first step. Different providers can charge different rates for the same procedure, even with all factors being equal. That’s why it’s important to do your research and shop around to compare pricing.

Thankfully, Compare.com makes this easy. Our comparison engine makes comparing the cost of medical procedures at your local hospitals easy. Just plug in your procedure and instantly have pricing results at your fingertips.

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