How Much Does an MRI Cost?

How Much Does an MRI Cost?

Anybody who’s ever had an MRI knows that it can be uncomfortable—especially knowing that the cost of an MRI can set you back hundreds or even thousands of dollars. Lying in a magnetic tube, perfectly still, in a cold clinical setting is not something most of us look forward to. Still, that experience can pale in comparison to actually paying for it.

Imaging procedures can be pricey, and it’s often hard to tell how much your health insurance will pay for. Luckily, medical imaging exams like MRI scans are one type of medical cost you can—and should—research first. Investigating health care costs could save you a lot of money in the long run while still ensuring you enjoy high-quality care.

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MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging. An MRI machine uses a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of organs within the body. The magnetic field causes the hydrogen protons in your body to align a certain way. Then, the radio waves knock the protons out of position, and when they line back up each particle sends a radio signal; these are analyzed to create an image. Images can be two-dimensional or obtained in cross sections to create 3-D images.

Unlike CT scans or X-rays, MRI machines do not use radiation, which may elevate your lifetime risk of developing cancer. MRI scanners come in a variety of magnet strengths and are used to obtain images of many body parts. In general, a stronger magnet produces a higher-resolution image.

So how much does an MRI scan cost? The short answer is, unfortunately, it depends.

Like most imaging exams, MRI scans can be expensive. However, many insurance policies will cover some or all of the cost if they consider the exam medically necessary. To find out, your doctor or the imaging facility should obtain prior authorization from your insurance company before scheduling the procedure. If you’re uninsured, you may still be able to find an affordable MRI scan with some shopping around and comparison of cash pay prices (how much a facility charges to patients who come in without insurance and want to pay for the procedure themselves).

If you need an MRI scan soon and want to know the cash pay price, we’ve got the information you need on three common types of MRI scans: brain, chest and abdomen. Let’s start at the national level.

According to data provided by OkCopay, the national median costs of MRI scans are:

  • Brain MRI: $1,181
  • Chest MRI: $1,219
  • Abdomen MRI: $1,166

This is the median price for an MRI without insurance, also known as the cash pay price. You should also keep in mind that MRI scans can be performed with or without contrast, which can change the price. Contrast is a dye-like liquid that causes certain tissues or organs to be seen more clearly on a scan. All OkCopay prices are without contrast; MRIs with contrast may be slightly more costly.

But national median pricing doesn’t tell the whole story. Prices could be significantly higher or lower depending on where you live. OkCopay reports data for medical providers in 16 metro areas and found the cheapest MRI scan to be only $209, for a brain scan in Vancouver, Washington. The cheapest chest and abdomen MRIs are $215 and $250, respectively, and are both found in New York City. There are relatively affordable MRI scans available in several other cities as well.

[Median prices can be far from what’s available to you. To find MRI prices in all the metro areas OkCopay surveys, click here.]

The 15 Least Expensive MRI Scans

Type Price Business Name Location
Brain $209 PeaceHealth Southwest Medical Center Vancouver, WA
$218 University Hospital of Brooklyn Brooklyn, NY
$235 Washington Adventist Hospital Takoma Park, MD
$250 Apollo Imaging Elmhurst, NY
$275 First Stop Urgent Care Center LaGrange, KY
Chest $215 University Hospital of Brooklyn Brooklyn, NY
$250 Apollo Imaging Elmhurst, NY
$275 First Stop Urgent Care Center LaGrange, KY
$300 Advanced Magnetic Imaging West New York, NJ
$309 Advanced Diagnostics Chicago, IL
Abdomen $250 Apollo Imaging Elmhurst, NY
$255 Washington Adventist Hospital Takoma Park, MD
$275 First Stop Urgent Care Center Lousiville, KY
$300 Advanced Magnetic Imaging West New York, NJ
$309 Advanced Diagnostics Chicago, IL

 

The most expensive MRI is an abdominal scan priced at $5,949, found in Tacoma, Washington—the same state as the least expensive MRI. The most expensive MRI for a brain is not far behind, at $5,560, and the most expensive chest MRI is $5,200. Here are the top five most expensive MRIs for all three types of scan.

The 15 Most Expensive MRI Scans

Type Price Business Name Location
Brain $4,734 New York Westchester Medical Center Bronx, NY
$4,899 Spring Valley Hospital Medical Center Las Vegas, NV
$5,150 Heathcote Health Center Haymarket, VA
$5,215 UCSF Medical Center San Francisco, CA
$5,560 Montefiore Medical Center Bronx, NY
Chest $4,392 Allenmore Medical Center Tacoma, WA
$4,590 Columbia St Marys Hospital Milwaukee Milwaukee, WI
$4,831 Aurora Rehabilitation Center Slinger, WI
$5,150 Heathcote Health Center Haymarket, VA
$5,200 Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway, NJ
Abdomen $5,200 Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital Rahway, NJ
$5,337 Winthrop University Hospital Mineola, NY
$5,394 UCSF Medical Center San Francisco, CA
$5,754 Montefiore Medical Center Bronx, NY
$5,949 Allenmore Medical Center Tacoma, WA

 

If those numbers put you on edge, don’t start fretting about how you’ll afford your MRI just yet. Despite these high prices, there are reasonably priced MRIs available in most of the analyzed metro areas.

However, Milwaukee appears to be an exception to reasonable local prices. The median prices for MRIs in Milwaukee are $2,700 for abdomen or chest MRIs, and a whopping $3,300 median for brain MRIs. That’s nearly twice the next highest median brain MRI charge—$1,771 in Salt Lake City.

Other metro areas have lower median charges, all costing significantly less than the most expensive MRIs. In fact, most large cities have MRIs available somewhere for less than $500. Here are the MRI scan median prices for 16 major cities*:

Median MRI Prices by Metro Area

City Median Price, Brain MRI Median Price, Chest MRI Median Price, Abdominal MRI
New York $550 $550 $550
Washington, D.C. $887 $1169 $1169
Atlanta $525 $525 $525
Louisville $1410 $1410 $1410
Cincinnati $1414 $1414 $1414
Indianapolis $1726 $1983 $1983
Milwaukee $3310 $2700 $2700
Minneapolis $945 $945 $945
Chicago $846 $846 $828
Austin $900 $900 $900
Denver $550 $550 $550
Salt Lake City $1771 $1688 $1688
Las Vegas $575 $550 $550
San Francisco $575 $575 $575
Portland $1193 $1068 $1068
Seattle $1691 $1827 $1400

While the most expensive MRI scans in the country top out at nearly $6,000, most are much less expensive. As these data show, pricing varies from city to city and by what part of the body is being scanned. The difference between the most expensive MRI scan in our dataset and the least expensive is $5,740. The following charts show the difference between 10th and 90th percentile of prices for the 16 metro areas included in the dataset.

 

Brain MRI chart

Chest MRI chart

 

Abdominal MRI chart

If you don’t live in one of the metro areas represented here, this information can help you start comparison shopping. When it comes to diagnostic screening, more expensive does not equal clearer or more accurate results. Because many computed tomography scans are diagnostic and therefore scheduled in advance, rather than used in an emergency situation, you can shop around and make a smart financial decision.


MRI photo courtesy of Shutterstock.

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