The same MRI can cost $400 at one facility and $4,000 at another. The high-priced providers get away with this because few patients shop around for a better price. Doing so could save you a fortune if you do not have health insurance or have not met the deductible of a high-deductible insurance plan. To get a good price, follow these steps…

1. Ask your doctor’s office for the “CPT” (Current Procedural Terminology) code for the MRI you require.

2. Type “MRI” and your city or state into a search engine to locate nonhospital scan providers in your area. These almost always charge much less than hospital imaging departments.

3. Call every nonhospital MRI provider in your area, and ask for the MRI price. Provide the CPT code, and note whether you have health insurance or Medicare coverage. (Insurance coverage could affect the price, and you need to find out if the facility is “in-network.”) If you don’t have insurance, ask for the facility’s cash-pay price and whether it offers a prompt-pay discount if you pay the entire amount at the time of service.

4. Find out what’s a reasonable price at my site, HealthcareBluebook.com, or use FAIRHealthConsumer.org’s free “Estimate Your Healthcare Costs” tool.

If all the prices you have been quoted are higher, expand your search to include MRI providers in surrounding areas. Driving 100 miles might save you hundreds of dollars, maybe thousands.

5. Confirm that the facility is of reasonable quality. It probably will be—studies have found no correlation between price and quality in this area. But to be sure, ask the facility—Do you have a “3.0 Tesla” (or “3T”) MRI machine? This is the current industry-standard technology, so not having one suggests that the facility is not up-to-date. Are you in-network with the major insurance provider(s) in the area? Ask this even if you do not have insurance—being in-network with major insurers suggests that the facility does competent work.