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Does it pay to shop around for a lower priced MRI?

Liz Salmi has been living with brain cancer for more than a decade. Twice a year she gets an MRI, magnetic resonance imaging, to make sure her cancer isn’t growing.

Salmi told Kaiser Health News that she didn’t think much about the cost until she changed jobs and insurance plans. Suddenly she was told her share of the cost was $1,600. A cost she’d have to shoulder twice a year.

Suddenly she had incentive to shop around.

Physicians routinely rely upon MRI as a diagnostic tool. But they aren’t cheap. According to data from NerdWallet, the average cost of an MRI scan runs $2,000. But depending on where a patient has the test (hospital vs. free-standing imaging center) the price can vary dramatically.

Salmi had the time (and the motivation) to call various MRI providers. She found one that would do the test for under $90. The clinic gave her the scans the same day along with two chocolate chip cookies. Astounding but true.

Ester Bloom had a similar experience. Posting her story on CNBC.com, Bloom said she needed an MRI to determine if a lump she’d discovered was malignant. She inquired about the cost at her local hospital and learned it would range between $2,000 and $3,000. Bloom had insurance but knew she’d be responsible for a significant portion of the cost.

So she turned to a website, Clear Health Costs, to check out other providers and prices. It took patience and several phone calls before she found a provider who would do the test for far less. Her share of the bill: about $500.

“I was doubly lucky,” she wrote. “I didn’t have cancer and I could pay my bills.”

Have you shopped for an MRI or other test? What was your experience? Share your tips with Voices for Affordable Health.