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Why medical imaging might be your #1 healthcare cost driver

Understanding imaging cost variation.

Sophia Lee
By Sophia Lee on June 21, 2018

Sophia is on the communications team at Amino, where she helps share industry perspectives. Connect with Sophia Lee on LinkedIn

If you’re a benefits manager, you know that healthcare costs are rising. But do you know what’s driving your organization’s increased healthcare spending?

Earlier this year, we conducted a healthcare claims analysis for a large, self-insured employer. What we found was surprising —  their top four healthcare cost drivers in 2017 were all imaging procedures: MRIs, ultrasounds, CT scans, and X-rays. Together, these procedures accounted for more than 38% of their total healthcare spend.

The good news? As a benefits manager, certain aspects of imaging costs are within your control. By understanding what drives high imaging costs and addressing those factors head on, you can deliver meaningful savings to both your employees and CFO.

In this blog post, we’re going to focus on one factor you can control: where your employees choose to get their imaging done. Our data shows that employees often pick imaging facilities that cost thousands of dollars more than comparable facilities down the street.  

Freestanding vs. hospital imaging centers

To start, let's clarify the difference between these two types of facilities. Most hospitals have internal imaging departments, where your employees can get an MRI, X-ray, CT scan, and more. But there are also facilities called freestanding imaging centers that provide similar services. These are generally outpatient facilities (meaning people don’t stay overnight) that aren’t affiliated with a hospital network.

Amino's database includes more than 23,000 imaging facilities across the country — including both hospital imaging centers and freestanding imaging centers. When we dug into our data, we found a huge cost discrepancy between the two. Specifically, we found that freestanding imaging centers tend to be significantly more affordable. For instance, if we look at the costs of limb MRIs by state, we see that the cost difference between a hospital and a freestanding imaging center in places like Michigan and Alaska can be as much as $2,000.


Chart 4-1


It's easy to see how a few expensive decisions can add up very quickly. If you’re self-insured, it’s particularly important to make sure you’re actively guiding employees to freestanding imaging centers (for more information on how Amino does that, request a demo).

We go even deeper on imaging costs in our guide below — be sure to download it for additional context, guidance, and a checklist for healthcare cost containment. 

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