Cost of Head and Brain CT Scans at Hospitals Through the Roof

The cost of a head or brain CT scan performed at one of Oregon’s hospitals tops the charts at $2,162 – nearly double the $1,130 average price. This compares to the $275 average price of the service at a testing center, and $148 at a doctors office.

Hospital Pricing Specialists compared patient claims data for head and brain CT scans (CPT 70450) at Oregon’s hospitals, doctor’s offices, and testing centers finding some extreme contrasts.

Willamette Valley Medical Center in McMinnville charged $2,162 for a head or brain CT scan. Taking a closer look at the data, The Lund Report found this highest sticker price was more than 52 times the lowest cost at a doctor’s office (Dr. Jeffrey Drutman in Bend price, $41), and 21 times more than the lowest cost charged by one of Oregon’s testing centers (Cascade Medical Imaging in Prineville, $102). Willamette Valley is a for-profit hospital owned by Capella Healthcare, based in Franklin, Tenn., that owns 10 acute care and specialty hospital facilities in five states.

At the upper end of pricing for Oregon’s seven testing centers examined, Willamette Valley Imaging in Eugene charged $713 for a CT scan, and Mid Rogue Imaging Center in Grants Pass charged $500. Imaging center pricing was slightly more or at par with the highest cost of a CT scan performed at a doctor’s office - $528 - charged by Dr. Kenneth Curtin in Portland.

Approximately 32 percent of Oregon’s doctors charged more than the average price for a CT scan (greater than $148), with 7 percent of those charging $200 and above. The table below lists doctors in Oregon charging more than $200 for a CT scan.

Doctors charging $100 or less were found in La Grande, Grants Pass, Salem, Klamath Falls, and Bend. Dr. Sarah Rogers was the only Portland physician charging among the lowest rates ($50) for a CT scan with 75 percent of doctors in Bend charging less (between $41-$46). The following 10 Portland doctors charged prices hovering just above $100 for a CT scan ($102):

  • Louis Riccelli, MD
  • Gary Nesbit, MD
  • Elizabeth Yutan, MD
  • James Anderson, MD
  • Vaishali Phalke, MB BS
  • David Petterson, MD
  • Jeffrey Pollock, MD
  • Bronwyn Hamilton, MD
  • Jane Weissman, MD
  • Arzu Ozturk, MD

Among the top 10 highest prices for CT scans charged at Oregon hospitals are:

  • Willamette Valley Medical Center, $2,162
  • McKenzie Willamette Medical Center, $1,900
  • Tuality Community Hospital, $1,890
  • Providence Seaside Hospital, $1,865
  • Mid Columbia Medical Center, $1,636
  • Peace Health Cottage Grove Community Medical, $1,580
  • Adventist Medical Center, $1,557
  • St. Anthony Hospital, $1,537
  • Mercy Medical Center, $1,504
  • Sacred Heart-Riverbend, $1,476

The 10 lowest hospital prices charged for CT scans, ranked from highest to lowest are:

  • Providence Newberg Medical Center, $583
  • Providence Willamette Falls Med Center, $583
  • Providence Portland Medical Center, $583
  • Providence Milwaukie Hospital, $583
  • Kaiser Sunnyside Medical Center, $412
  • Silverton Hospital, $330
  • Tillamook Regional Medical Center, $181
  • West Valley Hospital, $174
  • Good Shepherd Medical Center, $142
  • Coquille Valley Hospital, $108

According to Rick Louie, Principal at Hospital Pricing Specialists, data for the national CT scan study was collected from 2014 patient claims and was obtained from government agencies, patient-submitted bills, internet research, and phone surveys. Located in Silicon Valley, the company provides hospital price benchmarking reports to hospitals, physician offices, ambulatory surgery centers, reference labs, and imaging centers.

In an earlier report, Hospital Pricing Specialists completed a national study analyzing the costs of more than 18.7 million chest x-ray claims across the country, and found prices in hospitals were in many cases 3-10 times more expensive than those performed in physician office settings.

Oregon hospitals also appear to be more profitable than ever, with their margins rising, thanks to the Affordable Care Act, while charity care keeps plummeting.

The latest preliminary data from 2015 obtained by The Lund Report doesn’t surprise many onlookers.

The Lund Report has also begun its annual look at the finances of the individual hospitals throughout the state. Click here to read the articles on Providence, Kaiser and the Asante Health system

Kathryn can be reached at [email protected].

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As long as charge shifting is allowed without regard to actual costs, this aggressive pricing will continue. It is fair to look at CT Head since it should be the index study for CT as CXR is for plain X-ray. In a fair and non-profiteering world, the prices for CT studies should be what is needed to recoup investment in the CT machine over its expected 10 year lifespan, plus utilities, personnel and supplies, distributed among all the other machines in the medical imaging department based on utilization estimates, adjusted annually. It should not be set to make up for shortfalls in other departments, created by bad planning or out of control suppliers.  Being "forced" to raise prices in other departments due to unregulated cost increases in phamaceuticals, e.g., just points out the deficiencies of an unregulated for-profit industry behaving badly out of control and gives medical imaging a bad flavor. Why are you just singling out medical imaging, though? Administrators do the same price adjusting trick with other services, but medical imaging gets more attention due to the higher per event costs. One could also compare charges for appendectomy or C-sections. Cost control is built into single payer health care reform models and should even out these wild differences in prices for services, since the government will set the price, hopefully negotiated with annual reviews and open to appeal.

Dr, Frank Erickson


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