Pick the Right Insurer and Your MRI Will Cost $500. Pick Wrong and It Will Cost $1,800.

As we all know, prices for standard procedures in hospitals can vary by enormous amounts. Go to one hospital and your hip replacement will cost $15,000. Go to a different one and it will cost $80,000. And if you’re not insured and have to pay full list price? You better get used to just hobbling around.

But it’s even worse than that. Sarah Kliff points to a new paper that examined hospitals in the Philadelphia area and compared prices within the same hospital for the most standardized procedure imaginable: a lower limb MRI. Here you go:

The price varies from about $400 to $2,800 at different hospitals. But even within a single hospital, the price varies between $500 and $1,800 depending on who your insurer is. That’s because some insurers are able to negotiate better deals than others. Needless to say, these differences may very well translate into different copays and different out-of-pocket costs for patients. And if you have a high-deductible plan, that can mean thousands of dollars.

This might all seem kind of crazy, but it’s the free market at work. And thank God for that. If we had the government interfering and setting prices, everyone would be paying the identical $380 Medicare price for a lower limb MRI, just like they do in France and Japan. There’s no telling what havoc this could wreak on the salaries of hospital CEOs.