They both had shoulder pain, persistent despite weeks of physical therapy. Both received MRI examinations at reputable radiology facilities, looking for things like rotator cuff tears, labral disruptions and other anatomical abnormalities. What was different was the price they paid for the MRI, with one patient paying $1000 more than the other. Welcome to the crazy American medical marketplace!
Health care prices in the US vary substantially across providers, in part because those prices are so often opaque. When primary care physicians order MRIs for their patients, for example, few patients shop around for affordable radiology centers. There is no reason to shop, because most probably wouldn’t find out what the price was anyway.
That may soon change, if promising results from a recent experiment hold true. The experiment was launched by AIM Specialty Health, an insurance-like company that tries to manage the cost of expensive tests and procedures. The company decided to call patients up on the phone whenever the patients had scheduled MRIs that were either substantially more expensive than competing providers, or were going to be performed by a radiology group rated as significantly lower in quality than its competitors.
After receiving these phone calls, some patients shrugged their aching shoulders and went to whichever facility they felt like going to, realizing they weren’t going to pay out-of-pocket for their MRIs anyway. For example, if a patient had reached her out-of-pocket maximum for the year, then going to a high priced MRI facility would not affect her pocketbook. So she might stick with her originally scheduled test. But other patients, once they learned about the price and quality of alternative providers, canceled their originally scheduled scans and rescheduled with a competitor.
(To read the rest of this article, please visit Forbes.)