PET Scan Costs and You

By HealthPriceCompare - May 14, 2023

Positron Emission Tomography (PET) scans, also known as nuclear medicine studies, are a type of diagnostic imaging that visualizes biochemical changes taking place in the body and measures metabolic activity of the cells of body tissues. Used mostly in patients with brain conditions, heart conditions or cancer, it uses radiation in conjunction with a radioactive tracer to show activity in the body on a cellular level and can help detect health issues and conditions at the functional level by creating multi-dimensional color images of the inside workings of the body's biological processes.

PET scans are also one of the most expensive types of imaging studies. For example, insurance contracted prices for a nuclear medicine study of the heart in the state of Texas can range from $14,182 at one Houston area hospital to $1,744 at a Corpus Christi area hospital. Similarly, discounted cash prices for the same procedure can range from $1,530 in the Corpus Christi to $7,091 in the city of Denison.

Like all other imaging studies, the cost of a PET scan varies depending on the facility, the type of study being performed, your insurance status and whether you decide to pay cash.

How Location Affects PET Scan Cost

PET scan prices vary from state to state, and even city to city. If you live in an area with fewer medical facilities, you will probably encounter higher costs. If you live in a rural area with even fewer facilities to choose from, you can expect to pay a lot more than you would if you lived in a city with many providers. This makes traveling for a medical procedure can be a great money-saving option.

It is typically more expensive to get at a hospital and less expensive to get at a stand-alone imaging center which are a quality alternative for care at a significantly lower price. Because hospitals have more labor and overhead expenses than stand-alone imaging centers, they must typically charge considerably more for PET scans than stand-alone imaging centers.

Like hospitals, stand-alone imaging centers must buy PET scan equipment and then pay to keep it maintained and updated. Because these specialty clinics focus on imaging, they typically do more scans than hospitals which allows the equipment, maintenance and administrative costs to be spread over more patients, ultimately lowering the cost for each patient. Hospitals don't have the flexibility to do that.

Study Type Affects PET Scan Cost

PET scan costs can also vary depending on whether it is a limited area scan or of the whole body. At one Austin, TX area hospital for example, the lowest insurance contracted price for this type of procedure is $372, while one Houston area hospital offers a discounted cash price of $748.

A whole-body nuclear medicine study can be considerably more expensive. The lowest insurance contracted price for this procedure is $1,975 at a Corpus Christi area hospital while the lowest discounted cash price is $1,512 at one Houston area hospital.

Insurance Type Also Affects PET Scan Cost

You may be in a generous employer group health plan or on Medicare or Medicaid. These types of insurance cover most medical expenses with participants paying little to no cost-sharing when obtaining MRIs and other imaging services. For patients who are uninsured or in high-deductible health plans, their patient responsibility is typically the entire cost of the procedure.

What You Can Do

Patients are becoming aware that they have more choices than just going where their doctor tells them to go. You can call around and get quotes from a few different places or you can use HealthPriceCompare to do it the easy way ahead of time.

HealthPriceCompare enables comparison shopping of insurance contracted prices for PET scans using just three pieces of data - zip code, CT scan type and insurance plan. When you use the tool, you will likely find out that is considerably more cost-effective to travel to a different city when you need this procedure. Be sure to also compare discounted cash prices - you may be surprised by how much you can save!