I started Insurance Blog by Chris™ because I have a passion for insurance. Here at the blog, our job is to educate and inform people about the best insurance for them. Since then, we have grown into national brands with a large team of researchers helping people understand all forms of insurance.

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Rachael Brennan has been working in the insurance industry since 2006 when she began working as a licensed insurance representative for 21st Century Insurance, during which time she earned her Property and Casualty license in all 50 states. After several years she expanded her insurance expertise, earning her license in Health and AD&D insurance as well. She has worked for small health insu...

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Reviewed by Rachael Brennan
Licensed Insurance Agent Rachael Brennan

UPDATED: Mar 28, 2022

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Here's the Scoop

  • MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging and provides high-quality scans of bones, organs, and tissue
  • An MRI can cost thousands of dollars without health insurance 
  • There are ways to get the best price for an MRI

People get sick. It’s a common fact in life; there’s no way around it. And when you’re sick, you usually go to the doctor. But if you don’t have health insurance, the cost of medical bills can be extremely high. Whether it’s a doctor’s appointment, an emergency room visit, or diagnostic imaging, the price can be steep. If your doctor orders an MRI, you could be looking at hundreds to thousands of dollars depending on the test. But what exactly is an MRI, and can you get an affordable scan without insurance?

What is an MRI?

MRI stands for magnetic resonance imaging and is a medical imaging technique. It uses magnetic fields and radio waves generated from a computer to make detailed images of soft tissues and organs in the body. It produces two- and three-dimensional images by disrupting the hydrogen protons in a person’s body, lighting them up as they fall back into place. MRIs don’t emit radiation. 

Your doctor may send you for a diagnostic MRI for multiple reasons including detecting injuries, infections, tumors, abnormalities, and many other medical conditions. MRIs are more accurate than any other type of medical imaging and give a more detailed look at the body’s soft tissue. They also allow doctors to find small abnormalities that might not be visible through other types of diagnostic imaging. 

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Types of MRIs

There are several different ways that MRIs can be performed. The first difference is whether or not the MRI will be done with or without contrast. If the doctor orders an MRI with contrast, the patient will be injected with a gadolinium-based dye before entering the MRI machine. A with-contrast MRI is usually ordered to see blood flow, inflammation, tumors, or abnormalities in better detail. The type of MRI machine can vary as well depending on what you’re being tested for. 

The most common parts of the body for an MRI include:

  • Head: MRIs of the head are done to detect neurological conditions in the brain and nerve tissues. They can diagnose aneurysms, eye and inner ear disorders, stroke, tumors, and brain injury.
  • Pelvis: Helps the doctor see images of the area between your hips. This includes reproductive organs, lymph nodes, and the bladder.
  • Spinal: If you need an MRI of your spine, the doctor might be trying to detect spinal injuries, multiple sclerosis, or tumors.
  • Cardiac: MRIs of the heart can diagnose thickening of the heart walls, damage from heart attacks or heart disease, structural issues of the aorta, and blockages.

There are two different types of MRI machines:

  • Open MRIs: This type of MRI provides more movement, so radiology technicians can move the patient or parts of their body around during the procedure. Open MRIs tend to take longer, but they make much less noise and are good for patients who are claustrophobic. 
  • Closed MRIs: These are more common than open MRIs and produce higher-quality images. In a closed MRI, the patient lies down in a tube-shaped scanner and must remain completely still. Although the tube is big enough that the patient doesn’t touch the sides, it can be very loud and some — especially those that suffer from claustrophobia — might find it uncomfortable. 

How long does an MRI take?

Most MRIs take around 15 to 90 minutes to complete. In some cases, the length of an MRI could be shorter or longer. Someone getting an MRI with contrast will usually take longer than someone getting an MRI without contrast. The body part the machine is scanning will also factor into the length of time, as well as the number of images needed for analysis. Plus, people with claustrophobia or young children might require sedation to keep still enough for the machine to capture clear images.

How much does an MRI machine cost?

MRI machines are incredibly expensive, so the cost for someone to get one is going to reflect that. On the lower end of the spectrum, an MRI machine might cost as little as $150,000. Yet, on average they usually run from $1 million to $3 million for just a single machine. And that doesn’t include the cost of electricity, maintenance, and more. 

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How much does an MRI cost without insurance?

The cost of an MRI is going to depend on many things, including the body part, what state the scan is done in, and the facility that is performing the scan. The average cost of an MRI without insurance can range from $1,000 to $5,000. MRIs with contrast will also include bills for the dye used and IV placement. If you need sedation, the cost could be even higher. 

Here are the average MRI prices for specific body parts:

Body Part Average Cost
Brain $1,600-$8,400
Neck $500-$11,800
Chest $500-$7,900
Breast $500-$10,300
Abdomen $1,600-$7,600
Pelvis $500-$7,900
Upper extremity $1,050-$7,000
Lower extremity $975-$6,300
Heart $430-$6,500
Bone $410-$2,100

How much does an MRI cost with insurance?

If you have health insurance, it will usually cover an MRI if it’s ordered by your doctor. If you haven’t hit your deductible, then you might have to pay between $500-$1,000 out of pocket, which is still must cheaper than if you were to get an MRI without insurance. Yet, if you have hit your deductible, then you should only have to pay the co-pay.

How can I get a cheaper MRI?

While you can’t get an MRI for free, it is possible to find lower MRI costs. There are several ways you can get a cheaper MRI. Those include:

  • Don’t get an MRI at the hospital: Emergency rooms are usually the most expensive places to have an MRI. They can be double, or even triple, the amount that you would pay anywhere else. If you can help it, don’t go to the emergency room for an MRI.
  • Pick a state where MRIs are cheaper: Like most things, the cost of an MRI will vary depending on where you live. If a neighboring state offers a cheaper MRI, it might be worth it to travel to get your scan.
  • Go to an independent facility: Another way to save on an MRI is to go to an independent imaging facility. They are cheaper than hospitals, and they might be able to offer you a discount or payment plan if you can’t afford the cost all at once.

The cost of an MRI can seem daunting, especially if you don’t have insurance, so it’s important to know how you can get the best price to afford live-saving care.