Magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) has changed the field of medical imaging. This technique lets radiologists see detailed images of the insides of our bodies, particularly soft tissues like blood vessels, muscles, tendons, ligaments, spinal cord, and nerves. This helps them detect abnormalities such as tumors and other medical conditions.
An MRI scan leverages a magnetic field and radio waves to create images of organs and tissues. Unlike CT scans and X-rays, which use radiation, MRI uses magnetic waves, making it a preferred choice for many.
But how much does an MRI cost, especially without health insurance? Here, we’ll discuss various factors that affect costs, such as location and type of MRI scan, scanning equipment, and inpatient versus outpatient scans. Finally, we’ll share how to make affordable scans part of a proactive health screening regimen.
When someone asks, "How much does an MRI cost?" the answer isn't straightforward. The total cost can vary based on numerous factors.
Location: Just as the cost of living varies from one location to another, an MRI in New York may cost more than in other parts of the U.S.
Part of the body scanned: There are different types of MRIs— brain MRI, pelvic MRI, cardiac MRI, abdominal MRI, breast MRI, chest MRI, and those for upper extremities and lower extremities.
Inpatient vs. outpatient: Generally, getting an MRI as an inpatient while admitted to a hospital is pricier than in an outpatient setting at imaging centers.
Insurance: Uninsured patients may have to pay the entire cost out of pocket, while those with health insurance may still have to pay high deductibles, copays, or out-of-pocket costs. High out-of-pocket costs can sometimes discourage people from getting necessary scans.
Note: Ezra doesn’t use open MRIs; the type of equipment varies depending on our partner facilities. Here’s a breakdown of different types of MRI machines, what they offer, and other important considerations.
The 'T' in 3T MRI stands for Tesla, which is the unit of measurement for the strength of a magnetic field. Standard MRI machines typically utilize a 1.5T magnet, but the 3T MRI doubles this strength.
Advantages: The increased magnetic strength of a 3T MRI offers higher resolution images in less time, making it useful for detecting minute abnormalities in soft tissues or complex regions like the brain. This advanced clarity can be essential for diagnosing conditions in their early stages.
Considerations: While 3T MRI machines offer superior imaging quality, the stronger magnetic field can sometimes cause more noticeable artifacts on the image, especially in regions near bones or air. The advanced technology and superior imaging capabilities of a 3T MRI also often come with a higher price tag. The initial investment in the machine and its maintenance can be costly, resulting in higher charges for the patient or insurance company.
Traditional MRI machines have a bore (the tunnel-like part of the machine where the patient lies) of around 60 cm (23.6 inches) in diameter. In contrast, a wide-bore MRI typically measures around 70 cm (27 inches).
Advantages: The extra space can offer more comfort for patients who feel claustrophobic or those of a larger build. While not entirely open, the wider diameter can reduce anxiety and make the MRI experience more tolerable for many.
Considerations: The imaging quality is generally on par with standard MRI machines, but the patient experience might vary depending on individual comfort preferences and the specific design of the machine. When it comes to determining how much an MRI costs, the difference between standard and wide-bore MRI might not be substantial. However, facilities that prioritize patient comfort and invest in wide-bore technology might have slightly elevated costs due to the added value of an enhanced patient experience.
If you have claustrophobia (fear of enclosed spaces), the thought of having an MRI sends your anxiety through the roof you’re not alone. Many patients have reservations due to the closed nature of MRI machines. Fortunately, open MRI machines offer a more spacious environment, which is perfect for those claustrophobic.
Note: the Ezra Scan doesn’t use open MRIs.
Advantages: Open MRIs are especially beneficial for patients with MRI claustrophobia, children, or larger individuals. The design can make the scanning experience less intimidating and more comfortable.
Considerations: Historically, open MRI machines have had a lower magnetic field strength than closed MRIs, often around 0.3T to 0.7T. As such, the image quality may have been inferior to standard or 3T MRIs. However,l advancements have led to the development of high-field open MRI machines that can match the image quality of closed scanners.
No one likes surprise medical bills. As healthcare costs continue to rise, understanding the intricacies of medical expenses, such as how much an MRI costs, becomes vital for American patients.
In this context, the Price Transparency Act is an encouraging step forward. Price transparency requires medical providers to disclose prices of imaging services like MRIs, CT scans, and X-rays. This would make it easier for patients to do compare shopping and budget for medical expenses. It could also lead to lower prices as providers try to stay competitive.
Hospitals and radiology outpatient centers must post five "standard charges" for all services, including MRI scans. These include gross charges, payer-specific negotiated rates, de-identified minimum and maximum negotiated rates, and discounted cash prices.
Medical facilities are encouraged to provide tools or platforms that allow patients to compare the costs of MRI and other imaging services. This tool will empower patients, enabling them to budget accurately for medical expenses, from MRI procedures to CT scans and X-rays.
The Price Transparency Act also ensures that patients know of any potential cost implications when referrals are made to specific imaging centers or radiologists, especially if those referrals could lead to higher out-of-pocket costs.
If you have health insurance, the out-of-pocket cost is your share of covered healthcare expenses. Some out-of-pocket costs include:
Insurance premium: The amount you pay each month for your insurance plan. If you’re insured, a portion of this may be taken from your paycheck each time you’re paid.
Deductible: The amount you have to pay out-of-pocket before your insurance kicks in.
Copay: The fixed amount your insurance company requires you to pay for a covered procedure or treatment. This is usually due at the time you receive the treatment.
Coinsurance: A percentage of your total cost (after meeting the deductible) you must pay for covered expenses.
The specific amount you’ll pay for an MRI varies based on your policy. If you have insurance, you can find out what your MRI out-of-pocket costs are by visiting your insurance provider’s website or calling your insurance company’s customer service.
To avoid paying more of your MRI costs out of pocket when you have insurance, follow all the coverage rules.
Health insurance companies may deny your claim, refuse to pay, reduce coverage, or charge penalties for medical procedures that are not pre-approved or are out of network. Insurance usually only covers a specialist if your primary care provider (PCP) orders a referral.
Navigating healthcare expenses can be daunting, especially if you don’t have health insurance or opt to self-pay. This is when understanding the cost of an MRI becomes critical. Typically, uninsured patients or those who prefer to self-pay may find that MRI prices vary widely across different imaging centers and locations. In many instances, the average cost might be higher due to the lack of negotiated rates, which insurance companies typically secure.
The silver lining is that some radiology facilities offer discounts for self-pay patients, recognizing the financial burden they bear without the cushion of insurance. It's imperative for uninsured or self-paying individuals to actively research and compare prices across facilities and openly discuss potential discounts or payment plans with service providers.
Moreover, understanding the nuances—like the difference between open MRI and traditional MRI or the application of contrast agents like gadolinium—can further aid in making informed decisions about one's medical imaging expenses.
There’s a difference in price for routine diagnostic imaging procedures like MRIs based on your location, although these shouldn’t be much different in theory.. However, an MRI of the neck, also called a cervical spine MRI, has an out-of-pocket price range of $500 to $11,800.
If you live in a rural area, you may have fewer MRI facilities available to you, which will increase your costs. The region, state, and city where you live will determine the number of facilities you have to choose from. It’s more likely you’ll find lower-cost options in a city with many facilities and providers.
As we’ve covered, you’ll usually pay more for an MRI as an inpatient procedure while admitted to a hospital or while visiting the emergency department than if you choose to schedule an MRI at a freestanding imaging center or outpatient facility.
Some facilities, like Ezra partners, use the latest 3T MRI scanners without passing the overhead costs to you. Other scan providers may increase their prices to cover the cost of purchasing and operating similar high-quality imaging equipment.
Sometimes, “professional fees,” which include paying for a radiologist to read and interpret your images, are included in the total cost. However, if your case requires an additional set of eyes or special expertise, you may get another bill for consultation fees.
Another expense you might get billed for is the technical/facility charge. This may include medical imaging equipment, facilities, and the technicians who assist you during the procedure and operate the imaging equipment.
Considering that the average cost of an MRI of the neck (cervical spine) is $6,150 (depending on where you live), you probably think that a whole-body MRI would be unaffordable.
Fortunately, that’s not the case.
An Ezra Full Body Scan includes an MRI of multiple organs simultaneously. With an Ezra Full Body, you get MRI imaging of 13 organs, including the brain, kidneys, adrenal glands, thyroid, bladder, gallbladder, ovaries, uterus, pancreas, spleen, prostate, and liver. A Full Body Plus includes additional scans when appropriate. Meanwhile, the Full Body Flash is a 30-minute MRI scan screen for potential cancers in the head, neck, abdomen, and pelvis.
With Ezra, you don’t need insurance. Everyone pays the same amount for an Ezra Scan. Plus, we accept health savings account dollars from your FSA and HSA, as well as payment plans through Affirm. Couples and Family Plans are also available. While prices are subject to change, you can get the most up-to-date pricing information on our pricing page.
How much does an MRI cost? While there are many factors (like location and the type of scan it is), the bottom line is this: you shouldn’t let MRI costs keep you from getting the care you need.
Ezra partner facilities in San Francisco, Los Angeles, New York, New Jersey, Las Vegas and Greater Miami use cutting-edge 3T MRI machines. The entire scan usually takes between 30 minutes and an hour. If you choose to have a consultation, results will typically be available about 5-7 days after your scan and will be delivered to you via a telehealth visit with an Ezra clinician.
Ezra makes getting an MRI a comfortable and convenient experience. Booking your full-body MRI scan is easy, and it’s entirely online. When you arrive for your scan, Ezra provides a pair of comfy pajamas and earplugs, or you can scan while listening to your favorite YouTube channel or Spotify playlist.
The best part is that Ezra doesn’t require insurance and you don’t need a referral from your primary care provider to schedule a scan. Our clinician or medical provider will write the necessary medical orders when they assess you are a good fit for the service. Early detection saves lives. Book your Full Body Scan today.