UnitedHealth: Move routine imaging out of hospital, lower spending by 62%

Patients and employers could see their healthcare costs decrease by 62 percent if diagnostic imaging was shifted from hospital outpatient settings to lower-cost imaging centers, according to a report from UnitedHealth Group.

For the report, UnitedHealth analyzed claims for the locations and prices of diagnostic imaging tests for UnitedHealthcare members with employer coverage. The prices were based on allowed amounts paid for imaging tests that members received during a 12-month period ended August 2019.

The average price for routine diagnostic imaging tests, like MRIs and CT scans, in a hospital outpatient setting was $1,855. That's 165 percent more than the price of a test in a standalone imaging center or physician's office, UnitedHealth said. Switching to a standalone center could help patients and employers save $312 a test, on average, UnitedHealth said.

UnitedHealthcare, as well as Anthem and Cigna, have recently issued new policies that narrow what diagnostic imaging they will cover in the hospital setting. The insurers say the policies help lower costs for their commercially insured patients. However, the policies are likely to have a negative effect on reimbursement for hospitals.

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