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How Much Does An MRI Cost Without Insurance?

Last modified: Jul 24, 2023

MRI scanners are devices that can look inside your body and help physicians diagnose diseases. Doctors usually recommend MRIs when they need detailed images of your soft tissues, such as your ligaments, cartilage, and muscles, to make a diagnosis.     

Most health insurance companies will cover the costs if they deem it’s medically necessary. If you are not insured, you may have to pay for this diagnostic technique out of pocket. However, getting one done isn’t always cheap.       

In this article, we look at how much an MRI costs without insurance. If you’re interested, read on to learn more. 

What Is an MRI?

MRI stands for “magnetic resonance imaging” and is a diagnostic technique combining computer-generated radio waves with a magnetic field to visualize soft tissues. Typically, MRI prices depend on the area being scanned, the location of the clinic, and many other factors.    

Here’s how MRIs work: F

  • Patients either lie or sit (depending on the type of machine being used). 
  • Then, magnets circle their bodies from all sides. 
  • Physicians then collect the output from a computer.     

What Are MRI Scans Used For? 

Being a general tool, doctors use MRIs to scan and diagnose multiple conditions, including but not limited to: 

  • Strokes
  • Infections
  • Multiple sclerosis
  • Development anomalies in babies and young children 

MRI scans usually take between 15 and 90 minutes, depending on the area of the body being targeted and the number of images being taken. Patients can sometimes feel claustrophobic during the scan. However, many machines now have clever screens inside to give the impression of space. They may also blow air over your face to cool you down.   

Doctors order MRIs to help them better identify what might be causing the patient’s health issue. Modern scanners are highly accurate and have resolutions on the millimeter scale, allowing them to pick up any abnormalities quickly. 

Additionally, it’s important to note that MRIs and CT scans are not the same. MRIs use radio waves, while CT scans use X-rays. Generally, CT scans are better for problems with hard tissues, such as bone, while MRIs are safer for soft tissues.   

If you’re worried about what an MRI feels like— don’t worry, you can’t feel anything. Luckily, your nerve endings can’t pick up magnetic waves from an MRI scan. 

What Does an MRI of the Brain Show?

It can pick up:  

  • Traumatic brain injuries
  • Dementia
  • Causes of headache
  • Causes of brain infection
  • Brain tumors  

How Much Does an MRI Cost With Insurance?

The coverage for MRIs generally ranges between $1,000 and $5,000 if you have insurance. Your insurer sets copays and deductibles, so if you have a policy, you will need to check what these are.      

Typically, if you meet all your deductibles, your out-of-pocket copays will be anywhere between $20 and $100 (which includes both the consultation and procedure). Insurers will only cover MRIs that they deem “medically necessary,” so they won’t be able to claim money back for any scans for cosmetic problems.      

How much you can expect to pay for an MRI depends on the type that you need and how much your plan actually covers. Here’s a rundown of what you might pay:  

  • Upright MRI: Typically, the costs are the same as a conventional MRI, ranging from $1,000 to $5,000.
  • Open MRI: Often recommended for obese patients, insurers will cover anywhere from $1,000 to $5,000. 
  • Pelvic MRI: Costs here are roughly the same as the previous two, with a doctor’s fee of between $100 and $200.    
  • Head MRI: These are sometimes slightly more expensive, costing up to $8,400.
  • Cardiac MRI: These check the function of the heart and typically cost in the range of $1,000 to $5,000. 

How Do You Get an MRI Without Insurance? (Out of pocket)

You can usually get an MRI without insurance through a doctor’s recommendation. Figuring out how to get an MRI without insurance is easy, but you will have to pay out of pocket.

The amount you’ll pay for an MRI is usually less than what clinics would charge a medical insurance company. Patients typically fork out between $375 and $2,850, with the average in the US being around $1,325.          

However, if you want to pay less for an MRI, do the following: 

  • Avoid the emergency room: They tend to charge much higher prices because the machines cost to run. What’s more, the law compels ERs to treat all patients, regardless of insurance or not, meaning that many emergency rooms have unpaid bills they are trying to cover. 
  • Go to a freestanding imaging clinic: Your best bet is to go to a freestanding clinic. These don’t usually have much bargaining power, which helps keep prices low. If they charge too much, you can always shop around for a better deal.     

How Much Does an MRI Cost Without Insurance?

Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, clinics can no longer charge patients absurdly high fees for MRIs. Here are some MRI prices for different types of MRI without insurance:   

  • Knee MRI: $375–$800
  • Shoulder MRI: $375–$850
  • Brain MRI: $225–$1,400
  • Arm or wrist MRI: $350–$850
  • Abdominal MRI $550–$4,500

Additionally, the cost of a back MRI without insurance starts at around $1,400 and goes up from there. 

In comparison, prices for CT scans are in roughly the same ballpark. You’ll pay as little as $270 on the low end and as much as $5,000 on the high. As always, the cost depends on your location and the type of facility you use.    

A lung CT scan usually costs more than $300 and is generally performed to check for lung cancer. A heart CT angiography generally ranges from $500 to $1,000 but, again, how much you pay is highly dependent on the provider. 

If you want a CT scan of the abdomen or pelvis without insurance, you’ll pay around $1,300 for the former and $750 to $1,160 for the latter. 

Open MRI vs. Closed MRI

A physician may offer you two types of MRI: open and closed. 

A closed MRI is the traditional MRI system. Here, the patient enters a cylindrical space in the center of the device while lying on their back. The equipment surrounds them, creating a confined space, except for a small opening from the side where technicians push them into the vessel.      

The openings in closed MRIs are particularly small and feel like caving. Most have a bore of 60 cm (24 inches) or less, though there are some “wide bore” models with openings of 70 cm (28 inches) or more.  

The benefit of closed MRIs is that they provide the most detailed results. The shape of the machine means that they can generate stronger magnetic fields, which should, eventually, provide the attending physician with higher quality images, allowing for better patient diagnosis. 

Closed MRIs tend to be beneficial in various applications, particularly for identifying liver tumors, multiple sclerosis lesions, fibrocartilage lesions, and the anatomical structure of complex parts of the body, such as the wrist.  

Open MRIs are a newer type of MRI created for people who struggle with claustrophobia— the fear of confined spaces. They look like giant donuts with the active part of the machinery hovering over the patient’s head, with the sides open. Magnets sit above and below, providing a greater sense of space.     

One of the disadvantages of open MRIs is that they do not have the same quality as closed MRI devices. Furthermore, patients may need to stay in the machine longer to achieve the required fidelity. So, how long does an open MRI take? Usually, about 1.5 to 2 times longer than a closed MRI. 

Although open MRIs have some disadvantages, there are still good reasons for using them. For instance, they tend to be more child-friendly. It’s also possible to tilt open MRI machines, and they tend to be quieter, which can help jittery or nervous patients. Typically, doctors recommend open MRIs for shoulder injuries. 

Surprisingly, open MRIs cost about the same as conventional MRIs. However, physicians will usually only authorize an open MRI when medically necessary or when they feel that it would be in the patient’s best interest. Just like regular MRIs, insurers cover open MRIs. 

Sometimes, you’ll see clinics referring to open MRIs as stand-up MRIs. This is because patients are often free to stand, sit, or lean when using these machines. Doing this can help reduce anxiety or fear associated with the device. 

In Conclusion

In this post, we answered the question: how much does MRI cost without insurance? The answer is anywhere between $375 and $2,850, depending on where you live and the type of MRI you want. Thanks to the Affordable Care Act, clinics can no longer legally price gouge, so you are more protected than you were in the past. 

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