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Costly Care: How the prices of procedures vary

(Source: RNN) (Source: RNN)
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(RNN) -

The cost of healthcare in America can be staggering.

Mitch Brandon spent five years in the Army. He has family that also served in the armed forces. It runs in his blood.

When he starting feeling unusual aches, he made a visit to the VA in Louisiana. Then he received a bill.

"Eight-thousand, sixty-six dollars and 24 cent. I was quite surprised by was how large it was," Brandon said.

The VA has not said it would pay the bill, but the medical center's collections department is demanding the money now. It wants more than $4,000 for each MRI.

But less than a three minute drive away is another medical center that charges only $350 cash without insurance for an MRI.

But Brandon's case is not isolated. Across the country, the cost of healthcare varies greatly.

In Richmond, VA, the cost of a lower back MRI at VCU Health is $3,000. At Tucahoe Orthopaedics, the same procedure is $399. In Birmingham, AL, UAB Hospital charges $2,273 while American Health Imaging Costs $525.

There is little to no difference in these procedures. The only major difference is the price.

In Memphis, TN, the cost of a Metabolic Panel at Baptist Memorial is $171, while at Quest Diagnostics, the same blood work costs merely $74.

Healthcare expert Jeanne Pinder, who runs Clear Health Costs, says patients usually may not be aware of the true cost of their healthcare. Her advice is to ask questions.

"If you’re going to buy a tomato, you would know it’s either 30 cents a pound, or 60 cents a pound, or 90 cents a pound. You’d never walk into a grocery store and say, “Oh I’ll take that tomato,” without asking," Pinder said. "So, you’re programmed to think about shopping in that way for commodities. We’re not really programmed to think about shopping for medical care, but we should be."

Pinder says patients should call for prices from two or three clinics or hospitals. They should ask what will it cost cash and what will it cost under their insurance. She also says it is imperative you get that information in writing to hold them accountable.

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