Price Transparency in Diagnostic Imaging

The story of price transparency should be as simple as the tag on a box of cereal. Somehow, though, the practice of telling a customer how much a product costs before handing it over hasn’t filtered into a sector that makes up nearly 18 percent of the U.S. Gross Domestic Product: health care spending.

The complex web of insurance providers, doctor allegiances, and hospital systems doesn’t lend itself to price transparency. And patients whose lives may literally be on the line often don’t have time to shop around. But what if it were easier to practice comparison shopping for medical procedures?

Not only would patients save on each treatment, but the introduction of real competition would drive down health care costs in general. This may sound like a pipe dream, but in at least one medical specialty, price transparency is already here.

Radiology on the Vanguard of Price Transparency in Health Care

Some of the confusion over health care costs can be traced back to complex price negotiations between large hospital systems and leading insurance providers. Publishing these trade secrets would force hospitals to explain why they charge insurers drastically different rates for the same procedure.

So how much do prices vary from one payer to the next? A recent study from the Department of Health Care Policy at Harvard Medical School found that large insurers negotiate significantly lower prices than their smaller competitors. Insurance companies that claimed 15 percent of the sample market share paid 21 percent less, on average, than small insurers that only command 5 percent of the market.

No law or policy compels large insurers to pass those savings onto their customers. Even worse, some markets are only served by the smaller insurers, who must pay more.

As insurers and hospital groups race toward new mergers for leverage against one another, though, radiology providers are quietly rethinking the whole concept of health care pricing.

Low-Cost MRI Scans from Trusted Providers

Self-contained diagnostic imaging centers don’t have the excessive overhead that beleaguers gigantic hospital systems. With low cash pricing programs, they can avoid the costs of navigating insurance bureaucracies (while still accepting insurance for those who prefer to use it).

These providers can compete fairly for business, the way other industries do: By providing great service at a reasonable price. In Los Angeles and, increasingly, other cities throughout California, Nevada, and Arizona, offers low cash prices for common diagnostic procedures, including MRI scans, X-rays, CAT scans, and mammograms.

An easy-to-use online comparison tool ensures total price transparency. While that might not be the norm for the rest of the health care industry, it’s proof-of-concept that should probably spread. In an ideal world, every corner of the health care industry would offer total price transparency.


Bluth, Rachel. “Price Transparency In Medicine Faces Stiff Opposition — From Hospitals And Doctors.KHN. Kaiser health News, 25 Jul. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.

Livingston, Shelby. “Larger insurers negotiate lower prices from physicians.ModernHealthcare. Crain Communications, Inc., 9 Jan. 2017. Web. 21 Dec. 2017.