As I outlined last week, health care costs lack transparency, and it's virtually impossible for consumers to shop around. We're asking you, members of our KQED community, to share what you've paid for common health care procedures. Your responses feed directly into a database so others can look up how much mammograms cost in their area.
So far, we've received a handful of submitted prices. Our partner, ClearHealthCosts, had previously collected a range of "self-pay" prices -- that's the price people are charged if they do not have insurance or have decided to go out of their insurance network and are paying out of their own pocket.
Those self-pay prices for a screening mammogram in the Bay Area range from $125 at the low end -- from NorCal Imaging in Walnut Creek -- to $801 at the other end at UCSF.
Here's a screen shot of some places in the middle:
Then there are the submitted prices. Here's a screenshot of two prices shared by women in the Bay Area (and thank you to them!). Remember, this is all anonymous:
(As an aside, please bear with us as we refine this tool. We've just discovered that even though the two people above both are insured, the tool lists their insurer as "Self-pay." We are fixing this!)
Screening mammograms are supposed to be covered at no co-pay or other costs to patients. This patient appeared to pay $300, but her comments detail that she also got an ultrasound.
So what do these early data tell us? Starting with the final submission above, the apparent $300 co-pay, it's clear that consumers need to be careful about what procedures they're getting. While screening mammograms are supposed to be a zero-cost item for patients, diagnostic procedures are different. They are possibly subject to co-pays, depending on your insurance.
These early data demonstrate that there's tremendous cost variation -- especially on self-pay prices -- on screening mammograms in the Bay Area. While cost variation is well known in American medicine, there aren't a lot of places consumers can go to see prices laid out in front of them. If you're not insured or if you want to go out-of-network for a screening mammogram, these data, though not comprehensive, at least give you a starting point on price.
Finally, in addition to the handful of prices people have submitted to us, we've also been gratified that doctors have reached out to talk to us, too.
This week, Dr. Eli Chen in Morgan Hill emailed us that he'd had a patient come in with a flier of self-pay prices. Chen had a second price list as well. Here's one of them, from Valley Radiology Imaging. which lists several locations in the South Bay. Its cash price for a screening mammogram is $125, and it appears to offer an additional discount if a patient is uninsured and pays in full at time of service:
If you have a price to share, please do so. If you see an advertised list of cash or self-pay prices, please send us those, too! Our centralized email address is firstname.lastname@example.org.
This post has been updated to clarify the lowest cost self-pay mammogram in our PriceCheck database for the Bay Area.