A picture is worth a thousand words, the saying goes. But what about when the picture is of your leg or chest? If you aren’t careful, that picture could cost a lot.

People don’t always realize that prices can be different for the same type of visit or test, depending on where you go. Imaging like an MRI, CT scan or X-ray can be done at a hospital, stand-alone imaging center or physician’s office. And where you go can have a big impact on the cost, even for the same procedure.

“One place may cost $400 for an MRI, and another may cost $1,400,” said Steve Hamman, head of Blue Cross and Blue Shield Plan network solutions.

How many imaging centers and hospitals there are in your area can also affect the cost and how much of the bill you pay. And whether the provider is in your provider network or not affects the amount you will pay.

If you get a test by a provider that is not in your health plan’s network, you may end up paying all of the bill. If you go to a hospital for the imaging service, you are likely going to owe much more than if you went to a free-standing center or physician’s office.

Even if you go to a network provider, costs can vary, and how much the provider charges may mean you pay more.

“If you have a plan with coinsurance, where you pay a percentage of the cost, the bigger the amount charged, the more you’ll owe,” Hamman said. “Ten percent of $400 is a lot less than 10 percent of $1,400.”

Look at this example of how much prices may differ for the same test in the same area.
sleep_trackerPrices for brain MRIs in Chicago-Naperville-Joliet. Costs are examples and may not apply to every member’s situation.

Take 3 Steps

To avoid paying more, there are three smart steps you can take.

  1. If possible, check on the prices before having imaging done. Call the customer service number on your member ID card and ask for suggestions for the lowest cost in-network imaging centers near you.
  2. If you are referred by a doctor, ask the doctor’s office to give you two or three options and make sure they are in your health plan’s network. While the place just down the road from your house may be convenient, it may not be the most affordable.
  3. You may have access to cost information* through Blue Access for MembersSM (BAMSM), or you can use a public source like Clear Health Costs.

One more thing: Beware if a doctor tells you to use an imaging center that is not in your health plan’s network. Depending on what type of plan you have, you may pay the entire bill for out-of-network care. And even if your health plan does pay, it will likely be paid at the out-of-network rate, and you may owe more of the bill.

icon_dollar_signGo more in depth.

Read Putting a Price Tag on Care to learn more about how cost for care can vary.