The price of an MRI or a CT scan can range from $350 to $2,000, depending on where you get the medical imaging service done.
That difference hits home if you’re one of the many consumers whose health insurance carries potentially high out-of-pocket costs. Finding the right provider can be a major financial decision as well as a medical one.
Georgia’s largest health insurer is now offering its members help with this problem, providing information to help them compare the price and quality of medical imaging services in the Atlanta, Savannah, Macon, Augusta, Athens, Rome and Columbus areas.
Blue Cross and Blue Shield, which covers more than 2 million Georgians, will be helping its members “make informed decisions about their health care,’’ said Alexandra Leopold, a company regional vice president.
Costs have risen dramatically for MRIs and CT scans recently, Leopold said.
A patient with a high-deductible health plan or a large co-insurance percentage faces bigger out-of-pocket costs by going to an expensive imaging provider, whether it’s a physician’s office, an outpatient center or a hospital.
Greater transparency in health care is a national trend. For example, Aetna has been giving its Georgia members information about price and performance of local physicians for the last five years.
“Health care should have full transparency,’’ said Mike Cadger, CEO of Monocle Health Data, an Atlanta firm that sells independent information about health care price and quality to employers and to disease management companies.
The trend in medical insurance is for more consumers to have higher out-of-pocket payments, with some deductibles reaching several thousands of dollars per year, Cadger said.
A consumer should be able to buy health care like a commodity, shopping for the best deal, he said.
He added that 34 states require some form of mandatory price and quality transparency. Georgia is not one of them, he noted.
“Imaging probably has the widest price disparity for any medical service,’’ Cadger said.
Blue Cross officials noted that its imaging information program is voluntary for members to use. Once a physician makes a referral for an MRI or a CT scan at a specific facility, the patient who’s a Blue Cross member will receive a call providing information on other in-network facilities offering the same imaging services.
Patients will be told how those facilities rank in terms of cost and quality so they can decide where they want to receive these services.
The quality of imaging services is measured largely on how current the technology is. “There can be a wide gap,’’ Leopold said.
Blue Cross said it shared the cost information with providers in advance of making it available to members. Providers have responded positively to the imaging program, Leopold said.
The insurer can potentially also benefit financially if members pick lower-cost providers.
Other markets for WellPoint — the parent company of Blue Cross of Georgia — with similar imaging information programs are California, Indiana, Ohio and Missouri. Blue Cross said it is considering offering price and quality comparisons for outpatient surgeries and other procedures.