(Illustration: Andy Warner)
(Illustration: Andy Warner)

Last Monday, KQED, KPCC and ClearHealthCosts.com launched our community-created guide to health costs.

As I outlined last week, health care costs lack transparency, and it’s virtually impossible for consumers to shop around. We’re asking you, members of our KQED community, to share what you’ve paid for common health care procedures. Your responses feed directly into a database so others can look up how much mammograms cost in their area.

So far, we’ve received a handful of submitted prices. Our partner, ClearHealthCosts, had previously collected a range of “self-pay” prices — that’s the price people are charged if they do not have insurance or have decided to go out of their insurance network and are paying out of their own pocket.

Those self-pay prices for a screening mammogram in the Bay Area range from $125 at the low end — from NorCal Imaging in Walnut Creek — to $801 at the other end at UCSF.

Here’s a screen shot of some places in the middle:

Screen Shot 2014-06-29 at 2.33.24 PM

Then there are the submitted prices. Here’s a screenshot of two prices shared by women in the Bay Area (and thank you to them!). Remember, this is all anonymous:

(screenshot of mammogram prices submitted by KQED audience members from our PriceCheck project)
Screenshot of mammogram prices submitted by KQED audience members from our PriceCheck project.

(As an aside, please bear with us as we refine this tool. We’ve just discovered that even though the two people above both are insured, the tool lists their insurer as “Self-pay.” We are fixing this!)

Screening mammograms are supposed to be covered at no co-pay or other costs to patients. This patient appeared to pay $300, but her comments detail that she also got an ultrasound.

Screenshot from PRice Check.
Screenshot from PRice Check.

So what do these early data tell us? Starting with the final submission above, the apparent $300 co-pay, it’s clear that consumers need to be careful about what procedures they’re getting. While screening mammograms are supposed to be a zero-cost item for patients, diagnostic procedures are different. They are possibly subject to co-pays, depending on your insurance.

These early data demonstrate that there’s tremendous cost variation — especially on self-pay prices — on screening mammograms in the Bay Area. While cost variation is well known in American medicine, there aren’t a lot of places consumers can go to see prices laid out in front of them. If you’re not insured or if you want to go out-of-network for a screening mammogram, these data, though not comprehensive, at least give you a starting point on price.

Finally, in addition to the handful of prices people have submitted to us, we’ve also been gratified that doctors have reached out to talk to us, too.

This week, Dr. Eli Chen in Morgan Hill emailed us that he’d had a patient come in with a flier of self-pay prices. Chen had a second price list as well.  Here’s one of them, from Valley Radiology Imaging. which lists several locations in the South Bay. Its cash price for a screening mammogram is $125, and it appears to offer an additional discount if a patient is uninsured and pays in full at time of service:

Excerpt of flyer of self-pay prices from Valley Radiology Imaging.
Excerpt of flyer of self-pay prices from Valley Radiology Imaging.

If you have a price to share, please do so. If you see an advertised list of cash or self-pay prices, please send us those, too! Our centralized email address is info@clearhealthcosts.com.

This post has been updated to clarify the lowest cost self-pay mammogram in our PriceCheck database for the Bay Area.

Initial Mammogram Cost Comparisons in KQED’s PriceCheck Project 10 July,2015Lisa Aliferis

  • Shannon W

    Women need to be aware that if under 40 years of age insurance companies do not pay for screening mammograms. They need to call around to facilities in their area to get true self pay pricing. Your top examples are the facilities list rates and then insurance companies sign contracts based on a percentage of that list rate. I’ve rarely seen a patient ever pay the full list rate for a self pay exam. Almost every imaging facility offers a self pay discount at time of service.


Lisa Aliferis

Lisa Aliferis is the founding editor of KQED’s State of Health blog. Since 2011, she’s been writing and editing stories for the site. Before taking up blogging, she toiled for many years (more than we can count) producing health stories for television, including Dateline NBC and San Francisco’s CBS affiliate, KPIX-TV. She also wrote up a handy guide to the Affordable Care Act, especially for Californians. Her work has been honored for many awards. Most recently she was a finalist for “Best Topical Reporting” from the Online News Association. You can follow her on Twitter: @laliferis

State of Health Sponsored by

Become a KQED sponsor