Patients are paying more for MRIs and other brain health tests

Illustration for the article entitled Patients are paying more out of pocket for MRIs and other brain health tests

Photograph: Gynecology at the Ruhr-University Bochum Campus Clinic / Arne Jensen (AP)

Health care costs in the U.S. are rising more everywhere, and a new study released on Wednesday suggests that people seeking care for neurological problems are no exception. The study found that people with private insurance are increasingly paying out of pocket for services like MRIs, and that these costs have increased over 15 years.

The study, published Wednesday in Neurology, analyzed data from more than 3 million patients enrolled in a single private health plan. They examined neurology-related health services, such as assessments or management visits with doctors, electromyograms (used to test the connection between our muscles and nerve cells), as well as MRIs and other brain imaging tests. The study period was from 2001 to 2016.

In general, these services have had a greater financial impact on patients over time, they found. In 2001, about 30% of patients had to pay out of pocket for an electromyogram, but that increased to just over 50% in 2016. The same pattern was even worse for MRIs, with about 24% of patients needing to pay for them in 2001 but almost 70% doing the same in 2016. The percentage of people who paid out of pocket for medical appointments remained more stable, but high over the years, with around 95% paying for them in 2016, compared to 86.5% in 2001 .

Patients are also paying more in advance for these tests and tests over time, although actual costs fluctuate widely. The average cost of an MRI test on your own in 2016 it was $ 103, for example, but costs can reach $ 875 for those above the 95th percentile of patients in the new study. People on high-deductible health plans are also paying even more than others.

As the authors note, many Americans need money as it is. They highlight search suggesting that about 30% of people would have a hard time paying $ 400 in emergency expenses in addition to their regular bills. From others search showed that more than 50% of Americans are financially overburdened or concerned about high health care costs.

“In this scenario, neurological assessment can result in financial difficulties for patients,” wrote the authors.

The researchers point out that these rising health costs will only make it more likely that people will choose not to go to a neurologist when necessary or to avoid having tests that would diagnose urgent neurological problems – something that is already happening with medical care in general. A survey published in May this year found about 22% of Americans stopped receiving medical care due to the cost last year, while another 15% said someone in their family did.

Despite these trends, health and insurance costs are expected to continue to rise, although it is not still clear how much impact the covid-19 pandemic will have on these increases. The authors offer some recommendations that would make navigating these costs a little easier, such as making direct costs transparent to patients and doctors in advance. But nothing less than drastic action by lawmakers will significantly reduce the burden that people will have to bear.

“Costs have gone up to the point where systematic changes are needed,” James C. Stevens, p.resident of the American Academy of Neurology, said in a statement released Wednesday in response to the study’s findings. “These changes may include legislative action to set a limit on direct costs. The American Academy of Neurology is advocating such limits on direct drug costs in Washington, DC ”