Expensive imaging: New data reveal MRI prices highest in the US

The average price of an MRI in the United States is $1,119, higher than in any comparable countries, according to a new report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The report examined the availability, utilization and prices of a variety of health services in countries all over the world.

“In 2014, the U.S. performed more MRI exams than most similarly wealthy countries at an average price of $1,119 per MRI,” authors Rabah Kamal and Cynthia Cox wrote. “This was 42 percent more than the average price in the United Kingdom, 122 percent more than the average price in Switzerland, and 420 percent more than the average price in Australia.”

In addition, the U.S. ranks near the top in MRI availability (39 per one million people) and use (118 per 1,000 people).

“This correlation is not necessarily found in other similarly wealthy countries,” the authors wrote. “For example, France has a below-average number of MRI units available per million population but an above-average volume of MRI exams performed. Medical practice patterns or cultural trends driving demand may be contributing to the utilization of medical technology.”

The only comparable country with more MRI units available is Japan, with 52 per one million people. The only comparable country with higher utilization is Germany, with 131 per 1,000 people.

A separate report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, available here, noted that the average price of a lower back MRI in the United States has increased slower than inflation. Overall, however, healthcare prices have risen faster than the general economy.

The report also showed that prices are higher for lower back MRIs at hospitals than in other settings. For example, the average price is $1,335 in a hospital setting and $610 in an office-based setting.