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For Healthcare, It Pays to Shop Around

Let’s say you’re buying a new car. It costs $30,000 at one local dealership. But at another local dealership, the exact same car costs $25,000. You’d buy the less expen­sive car and save $5,000, right? Now you can do the same when it comes to healthcare.

A new report shows that you can save thousands by comparing prices for medical services such as knee replace­ment surgery. The price tag on knee replacement surgeries can vary widely across the country, from $16,000 in Montgomery, Alabama to $61,000 in New York, New York. But you can also find cost differences locally, as shown below:

Cost Range for Knee Replacement Surgery*
Boston-Worcester area: $18,000 – $53,000
Providence-Warwick area: $27,000 – $33,000

Higher prices don’t always mean higher quality, so it’s worth shopping around—especially if you pay part of your healthcare costs.

Save money with BCBSRI tools

Shopping for cars and shopping for medical care isn’t a perfect comparison. After all, healthcare services don’t come with a fixed price tag—and your health is priceless. But as a BCBSRI member, you can now make informed decisions based on cost and quality through bcbsri.com.

Use My Cost Calculator on bcbsri.com
Good for: Estimating costs for more than 400 medical services, including MRIs, office visits, lab tests, and surgeries

What the tool offers: The opportunity to save money by comparing costs for the same medical service

How to use it: Log in to your member account or create one. Then choose My Cost Calculator in the left-hand menu.

Why do costs vary for the same medical service?

Some of it depends on where you live. Healthcare costs are generally higher in more expensive places to live, such as New York and Boston. But where you re­ceive care also matters:

  • Hospitals have a high cost of doing business because they stay open 24 hours a day. If you can choose where to have a service (such an MRI), you’ll usually pay less at an independent facility than at a hospital. Here's a real example:

           Spine MRI at a hospital: $1,195
           Spine MRI at a doctor’s office: $380

  • Surgeries and other medical care may be less expensive at community hospitals or hospitals that are not academic teaching institutions.

*Study by Blue Cross and Blue Shield Association in collaboration with Blue Health Intelligence and based on claims from independent Blue Cross companies, including Blue Cross & Blue Shield of Rhode Island.