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It pays to shop around before having an out-patient diagnostic test

medical dataYour doctor recommends that you have an echocardiogram – an ultrasound of your heart. Depending on where you have it done, the cost for the diagnostic test could range from $210 to $1,830. Yep. That’s for the exact same test.

A study by the UnitedHealth Group finds pricing for the most common outpatient diagnostic tests – including MRIs, mammography and ultrasounds – varies greatly.

Researchers analyzed costs of more than 12.5 million diagnostic tests performed on patients covered by private health insurance. The results showed some geographic cost differences. But competition – or lack of completion – was the primary driver of costs.

Patient outcomes were apparently the same, whether they had a $210 test or the same test at $1,000.

“health care providers generally are incentivized to use their market power to increase prices, often resulting in overpriced services.”

The researchers’ conclusion: “Rather than cost or quality primarily driving price variation, a more likely reason is that health care providers generally are incentivized to use their market power to increase prices, often resulting in overpriced services.”

The study didn’t stop at just looking at price ranges for the same diagnostic tests. Analysts crunched the numbers and found big savings if the higher prices were brought closer in line with the average. For example, eliminating the wide cost variations for an echocardiogram could potentially save American consumers and their insurance companies $970 million a year.

Have you ever questioned the cost of a diagnostic test? Share your experience and tips with Voices for Affordable Health.