Magnetic resonance imaging, commonly referred to simply as magnetic resonance imaging, is the closest thing to magic.
Using a series of intense magnetic fields, an MRI machine can map the hard and soft tissues of a human body.
It usually does this by causing the water in your organs to emit low-level radio waves, which the machine receives and uses to create a three-dimensional image of an organ or body part being scanned.
MRI machines have become an essential part of modern medicine. Doctors use them to diagnose cancer, nervous system and neurological problems, and joint problems, to name but a few applications.
But they are not cheap. The materials needed to build an MRI machine, not to mention the amount of energy and personnel needed to operate it, become expensive.
That’s how much it costs to do an MRI and why.
How much does an MRI cost?
MRI is one of the most expensive single procedures a hospital can perform.
Even more difficult, the cost of an MRI can vary greatly. According to data collected by NerdWallet, an MRI costs on average $2,600. But this figure can skyrocket depending on the circumstances, the location, the hospital and the particular scan performed by your doctor. Some centers may charge between $400 and $600 for an MRI. Under other circumstances, the price of a single scan may exceed $13,000.
One of the biggest determinants of the cost of an MRI scan is the location where the study is performed. An abdominal scan, for example, can be considerably less expensive than a brain scan or lower back scan.
Why is an MRI so expensive?
A single state-of-the-art MRI machine can cost over $3 million. Even an energy-efficient machine can cost more than a million dollars, and housing these devices costs even more. An MRI machine must operate in a magnetically sterile environment with built-in safety features to ensure that the powerful field generated by the machine does not harm people or nearby properties.
Building a clean room for an MRI machine costs hundreds of thousands of dollars alone.
An MRI machine is also expensive to use. It requires a lot of power to operate and, depending on the scanner, a doctor may order so-called “contrast dye”. This magnetic response fluid helps to make some objects stand out on the final image and can add hundreds of dollars to the bill.
The time of the doctors and technicians involved also costs. A technician has to perform the scan and a radiologist has to supervise and interpret the results. Depending on the hospital’s billing practices, these items can be grouped into a single scan price.
And, in addition to all this, medical billing may vary. It is also possible for a hospital to assess the price of an MRI scan not only on the basis of the cost of the scan itself, but also on the basis of other costs of running the facility. Costs for general nursing staff, hospital administrators, building maintenance and operations are included in every hospital bill.
The price of a scanner varies from one institution to another and is one of the reasons why it is generally cheaper to purchase a scanner from an imaging centre than in a hospital.
Are MRI scans covered by insurance?
In general, yes.
Individual insurance varies widely, but MRI is a well recognized and accepted diagnostic tool. As long as your insurance covers the problem for which you are being treated, MRI is likely to be covered.
However, co-payments and deductibles can make MRI a costly procedure. With highly deductible insurance plans that are common, the expense of an MRI can become a very real problem for individual patients.