Costliest Cities for Primary Care Visits

June 13, 2014
Laura Joszt

Both patients and physicians have a hard time knowing how much procedures and services will cost beforehand, but a new analysis has shed some light on the issue.

Patients aren’t the only ones in the dark about healthcare charges—even physicians have a hard time knowing how much a procedure will cost beforehand. A new analysis from Castlight Health aims to provide some transparency when it comes to healthcare costs.

Using historical prices and analytics, Castlight estimated the cost of in-network services for insured patients, focusing on a head/brain CT scan, a lower back MRI, and an adult preventive primary care visit.

“Understanding healthcare costs is a first step in enabling employers to fix what is broken in enterprise healthcare,” Jennifer Schneider, MD, vice president of Strategic Analytics for Castlight Health, said in a statement. “Many Americans believe if they select an ‘in-network’ doctor from their company’s health plan they are assured of paying less, or think that healthcare prices vary across the country but not in their backyard. This analysis dispels both those myths.”

Castlight also found that not only do prices vary widely across cities but within them as well. For instance, Castlight found that an MRI in New York City could cost as little as $416 or as much as $4,527. A CT scan in Philadelphia can cost anywhere from $264 to $3,271.

“This analysis provides important information for consumers who get insurance through their employer,” Schneider said. “We want to make them aware of these price variances and ranges—and encourage them to take action to get great care at an affordable price. It’s also important information for their employers, who are footing the US healthcare bill to a tune of $620 billion annually.”

Ultimately, California comes out behind with 2 cities shelling out the most for 2 of 3 services. Here are the most expensive cities for preventive primary care:

10. San Diego, California

Average price per visit: $145

Median income: $63,990

While a CT scan is still fairly expensive at $898, the average cost of a MRI is just $1,057 in San Diego, which is one of the cheapest in the country. On top of expensive healthcare, though, San Diegans also have to deal with one of the most expensive housing markets in the country.

However, there’s another California city that’s even more expensive for primary care visits, MRIs, and CT scans.

9. Atlanta, Georgia

Average price per visit: $147

Median income: $46,146

A primary care visit in Atlanta can actually cost as much as $357. Unfortunately, Georgia is expected to see one of the largest shortfalls of primary care physicians by 2030. The state will need to increase its population of primary care physicians by 38% in order to maintain the status quo.

8. Chicago, Illinois

Average price per visit: $165

Median income: $47,408

Other than the cost of a primary care visit, Chicago’s healthcare costs fall into the middle of the pack. A CT scan will run an average of $946, which lands the Windy City at 13, and a MRI costs $1,514 on average, which places Chicago at 16. Although a primary care visit averages $165, it can cost as low as $89 or as much as $275.

7. Seattle, Washington

Average price per visit: $189

Median income: $63,470

Even the low end for a primary care visit costs $137. However, despite having one of the highest average costs per visit to a primary care physician, the cost for an MRI is just $907, the least expensive out of the 30 states. And a CT scan costs just $674, which is also one of the cheapest.

6. Boston, Massachusetts

Average price per visit: $193

Median income: $53,136

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The cost for a CT scan is one of the cheapest ($853) of the 30 states analyzed, although an MRI is still one of the 10 most expensive ($1,737). Residents in Boston also experience the longest average wait time for a doctor appointment. It takes 72 days to see a dermatologist and 46 days to see an OB/GYN. On average, it takes 66 days for a patient to see a family physician.

5. Charlotte, North Carolina

Average price per visit: $199

Median income: $52,916

At the low end, a primary care visit can cost a little as $60 in Charlotte. Plus, a CT scan is significantly cheaper in Charlotte than in the rest of the country, with the average cost just $619. However, it still has one of the most expensive costs for MRIs. On top of that, North Carolina’s residents are among the least financially stable in the country.

4. Minneapolis, Minnesota

Average price per visit: $209

Median income: $48,881

A CT scan only costs $702 and a MRI costs $1,243, both of which are among the cheapest on the list. However, patients who want to see a dermatologist have a long wait ahead of them as it can take 265 days in Minneapolis. Even worse news for residents: Minnesota has one of the highest top income tax rates in the country and it just ranks poorly overall for taxes.

3. Portland, Oregon

Average price per visit: $216

Median income: $51,238

The cost of an MRI ranked 14, while the average price of a CT scan ranked 17. However women in Portland do have to wait 136 days for an OB/GYN appointment, which is the longest wait time in the entire country. Portland is also projected to have a large primary care physician shortfall by 2030.

2. Sacramento, California

Average price per visit: $219

Median income: $50,661

Sacramento may be second for primary care visits but it’s the most expensive city for getting a CT scan, which will run you $1,404, or an MRI, which costs $2,635 on average. With such expensive costs, it’s no surprise the residents of Sacramento are among the least satisfied patients in the country.

1. San Francisco, California

Average price per visit: $251

Median income: $73,802

Scarily enough, $251 is just the average. The average doctor’s visit in San Francisco could cost as little as $117, which is still more expensive than the $95 average in Miami, or as much as $461. The City by the Bay is the second most expensive for MRIs ($2,244) and the fifth most expensive for a CT scan ($1,203).

Although, San Francisco does have the highest median household income on the list.