Readers of this morning’s New York Times story on the wildly varying charges levied for routine echocardiograms may have been left with the erroneous impression that it is nearly impossible to learn the price of cardiac ultrasound machines. Not so.
Reporter Elisabeth Rosenthal, whose ongoing series “Paying till it hurts” will likely win numerous journalism prizes next year, reports in the middle of Tuesday’s piece, “Medical test math: one scan, two prices, both high,” that General Electric refused to divulge the price for its cardiac ultrasound machines. She notes without attribution that high-end machines sell for under $300,000.
In fact, the average price for a cardiac ultrasound machine was $140,000 in October of this year, up nearly 3% from a year ago, according to the latest Technology Price Index report from ECRI, which tracks capital purchases by hospitals and other medical providers. Modern Healthcare publishes ECRI’s TPI each month.
That relatively low cost helps explain why the machines have become very popular in physician offices and hospital ambulatory clinics that still get the majority of their reimbursement from fee-for-service medicine. With prices for echocardiograms ranging as high as $12,000 for privately insured patients in some markets (Medicare pays $500, including patient co-pays for each test), according to Rosenthal, you can recoup the cost of the machine fairly quickly. Even at Medicare rates, the payback would take only a year if the office or clinic conducted just one test a day.
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