How much for an MRI? Well, that depends…


This week, we look at three MRIs with four different price tags, and an enormous range.  

Liz Salmi and a view of her brain. (Photo: Kaiser Health News)

The first two price tags come from listener Liz Salmi, who has been living with brain cancer for more than a decade.

Liz gets MRI scans twice a year, to make sure the cancer isn’t growing.  

A couple years ago, Liz changed insurance, changed providers… and got serious sticker-shock when she saw the bill for a scan: $1,600 — AFTER insurance.

So when she needed a follow-up scan, she shopped around — and found an option that set her back less than 90 bucks.

Which is great news, and useful — as far as it goes: As Liz points out, not everybody has six months to shop around.

But Liz’s experience isn’t even the craziest MRI-price-tag story we look at this week. Stick around for that.

Coming in to bat cleanup — to help us understand why these prices are so crazy, and so variable — is journalistic super-star, friend of the show, and my new colleague:

Elisabeth Rosenthal, editor-in-chief of Kaiser Health News and author of An American Sickness: How Healthcare Became Big Business and How You Can Take It Back. She breaks it down in an authoritative, funny, clear-as-glass way.

(Reminder: Kaiser Health News — our co-producers for this season — is not affiliated with the health care provider Kaiser Permanente. It’s a great story, and we’ve got it for you right here.)

This is the first of three episodes where we look at where health care prices come from. So this week it’s MRIs.

Next up: Prescription drugs.  

And then: Insulin. Yep, we are going there.