Patient declines wildly overpriced $500 chest x-ray at hospital

Normally I only do one blog post per day, but last night another item caught my eye after I’d already written and scheduled today’s earlier post (“Insured patients can save money by pretending to be uninsured”). Actually, “caught my eye” isn’t the right term. A more accurate term might be “totally incensed me.” Even more accurate terms aren’t suitable for print.

Anyway, what I read motivated me to do an extra post today.

Yesterday the Daily Mail, a British newspaper (publishing here through their online outlet MailOnline), put out a story regarding many people’s confusion over whether they actually have health insurance under Obamacare. As you may have heard, there’s been a few glitches here and there with the law’s rollout.

That’s not what caught my attention however. It was the story of one of the people who was apparently caught up in this confusion.

‘They had no idea if my insurance was active or not!’ a coughing Maria Galvez told MailOnline outside the Inova Healthplex facility in the town of Springfield. 

She was leaving the building without getting a needed chest x-ray. 

‘The people in there told me that since I didn’t have an insurance card, I would be billed for the whole cost of the x-ray,’ Galvez said, her young daughter in tow. ‘It’s not fair – you know, I signed up last week like I was supposed to.’

The x-ray’s cost, she was told, would likely be more than $500.

Of course this story is mainly about the bungled rollout of Obamacare and what it’s done to this woman and countless others, but there are plenty of people commenting on that, and I’ll leave that to them. My focus here is on the $500 price for a simple chest x-ray.

It wasn’t just the fact that she was given a wildly inflated price that drew my attention. It’s that this is for me a very local story – the Inova Healthplex facility cited in the article is literally just up the street from me, and is in fact where I had my own surgery in August. This lady is a part of my community, and she was treated very, very badly by my local hospital.

There is simply no justifiable reason for Ms. Galvez to be given a price of $500 for a simple chest x-ray. According to Healthcare Blue Book, in my zip code an insurer will typically pay $68 for this imaging service., a source for self-pay prices for imaging services, doesn’t have any cash prices for providers in my area. But plugging in zip codes on their site for several other areas around the country revealed cash prices for chest x-rays ranging from $50 (New York) to $90 (Chicago). I also placed a few calls to imaging centers in my area, and was told by one facility about 8 miles south of here that it would be between $72 and $87 for a chest ray depending on type (apparently there are 2 different types) if the patient paid cash at the time of service.

I’m certain that the price Ms. Galvez was quoted is the ‘chargemaster’ rate, which is the entirely fictitious set of ‘list prices’ maintained by most hospitals that aren’t paid by anyone except unwary uninsured or out-of-network patients.

Hopefully someone who’s familiar with the options and alternatives that self-pay patients have knows Ms. Galvez and can point her towards a location where she can get a fair and reasonable price for an imaging test she needs.

And I hope someone at my local Inova Healthplex sees this, and feels very, very bad about what they did to Ms. Galvez.

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10 Responses to Patient declines wildly overpriced $500 chest x-ray at hospital

  1. Barbara P says:

    If I spend the cash to go to a doctor, I found out what tests are necessary. Then I shop around for the least expensive price. I use the phone a lot. I use the internet a lot.
    I have found the least expensive place to get blood work, and other tests that involve lab tests to be Any Lab Test Now. The facility draws the blood etc., and sends it via FedEx to the lab. Works well for me. And the woman who runs that facility is a 30 year veteran R.N. and a Naturopathic Doctor. I can take very few drugs, due to porphyria, so I try to use an N.D. before I see an M.D.

    To get an older, generic drug, for my arthritis, cost me $180 to walk in the door at a local university clinic. I believe that is atrocious! But my doctor (M.D.) would not give me a refill script, unless I came in for a short visit.

    I have checked out the doctors who do house calls, and have mobile units, and use tele-medicine in the Charleston, SC area. They charge exorbitant prices. I figure they are trying to be concierge doctors to the rich, and just don’t care about those who are on a fixed budget. So I will have to stay with the Medical University of South Carolina clinic, near my home. I do not qualify for the clinics used by the poor. Do not qualify for SSI, yet I have 18 disabilities that keep me from working. I have been without medical insurance for 10 years…but cannot afford Obamacare. By the way, I pay my bills…but have to do it on a monthly basis. I have to budget so that I can pay, and do without something else. I stay home almost all the not spend money. That is enough to drive anyone bananas!

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  5. This sort of information should always be available to people and its shocking that it is not. I appreciate your blog posting on this topic!

  6. Jo says:

    I got charged 585 dollars for a chest xray at my doctors office and then more for needle insertion and someone to read xray!

  7. tiffers says:

    I need xrays. Im wondering if any veterinarian will xray me. Humans and dogs have the same knee. Vets do the same thing for a fraction of the price.

    • says:

      At one point in Canada people were trying to get into veterinarians’ offices to get human x-rays, don’t think they let them though. Here in the States it’s probably the same thing, as those x-rays aren’t certified for humans and there’s no licensed MD or tech to operate it on humans. Good thinking outside the box though!

  8. WILLAM R says:

    Many insured pay as much as a 20 percent copay for services like imaging and lab work. The purpose of the inflated “listed” prices is to transfer more of the cost back to the insured whose plans have percentage copays. These copays are based on the inflated price and never the actual lower amount paid to the provider by the insurance company. Patients paying an imaging lab at time of service and bypassing the insurance will often result in a huge savings. In my case my 20 percent copay would have been more than $100 more than I actually paid directly to the imaging lab for an MRI. This is a deceitful practice and should be illegal IMHO.

    • pam says:

      deceitful indeed

      if she has plan w/ 20% co-pay, she’d pay $100 (assuming the deductible is fulfilled). it’s still more $$$ than $50 – 90 for an uninsured person.
      but then the bill would make most unaware people think they’re saving $400.

      for a bronze plan, it has a 40% co-pay. so it’s even more of a rip-off.


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