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Health care costs are at the heart of a Health News Florida reporting project called PriceCheck. It lets you search and contribute to a database of common medical procedures. We want to hear from you, but submitting information on our database. You also can email our reporters at (Tampa Bay) or (South Florida).You can also call 877-496-6999 if you wish to provide information or share comments that you do not want made public on this forum.

PriceCheck: Paying Cash For An MRI May Be Less Painful

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Health News Florida's database of costs for common health care procedures is growing. PriceCheck now contains thousands of entries for health care providers. We're also getting a lot of feedback from listeners who have stories of their own about navigating the billing process.

Some of you have learned tricks along the way. Today we're hearing from Cheryl Brown, of St. Petersburg:

Here is her experience in her own words:

“I was bent over cleaning my horse's hoofs and I reached down to pick up the hoof dressing and suddenly ... something happened to my back. So I ooched my way over to a post, got myself vertical and back in my vehicle. And the next morning it was a Saturday morning I went to my chiropractor and she adjusted it and did ultrasound to relieve some of the pain and I went back on Monday.

On Monday, it was quite bad and she suggested to go and get an MRI and my chiropractor told me that I would most probably be best off paying cash for the MRI. And she said it would be between $325 and $375.

So with this in mind I went to my MRI appointment and when I went in the young girl that checked me in went over my medical insurance. So I told her that I wanted to pay cash and she said, 'No you've got Medicare we’ll run it through the insurance.' Not knowing any different, I went for it. About six weeks later I got a bill from the imaging company.

The bill was $1,850. I was shocked and actually I think I started to cry because I thought I had done a big mistake by not forcing the girl to take a cash payment the day I was there. I didn't know any better.

First of all I called Medicare to find out why it was denied. That's when I learned about having a chiropractor write this prescription instead of an M.D. And soon as I knew it was not like a clerical mistake, then I called the imaging company and told them that my chiropractor had told me to pay cash and when I said I wanted to pay cash I was told to wait till it went through the insurance.

She said 'Oh don't worry just come on in and pay cash, and we'll change it around so that you don't owe $1,850. It will be paid in full cash.’

I went there personally that day with $375 and handed them $375 greenbacks. So, I saved, you know, nearly $1,500 dollars.

In the future when I run into the situation. I will inquire about a cash price because I think that's more available than people realize. I think that that can be helpful especially in high deductible situations. It may be very well to your advantage to look for a cash price. It's embarrassing to ask. I think it's the new way.”

Julio Ochoa is editor of Health News Florida.