6 Stats That Will Convince You to Start Price Shopping for Medical Care

Wondering why medical bills are always so high? These numbers provide a clue — and show you how much you can save.

Woman shopping for medical care online

Medical costs are wildly unpredictable. A procedure that costs less than $500 at one medical facility can cost almost $5,000 at another. The costs can also vary a lot depending on which insurance company you have or whether you’re paying your bill in cash.

But patients rarely think to ask about prices up front. That’s partly why, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research report, they often end up at facilities with higher prices.

“We know how to shop everywhere except in the healthcare world,” says Nicole Broadhurst, founder and patient advocate at Tennessee Health Advocates, LLC. “It’s something everyone should be doing.”

So how do you price shop for medical care? For starters, get familiar with online medical pricing tools that help you find the typical costs of procedures in your area. These can be a big help, yet fewer than 1% of patients use them, according to the National Bureau of Economic Research.

Next, get in the habit of asking your doctor how much a test or surgery costs — and whether they’re aware of lower-cost facilities in the area. It’s perfectly fine to talk to your doctor about money. (Learn more on this here: How savvy shoppers find low-cost medical care.)

If you’re not convinced that shopping for medical care is worth the trouble, keep reading. These shocking stats will show you how much people are spending — and how much you can save.


The amount you can save on knee surgery by having it performed as a one-day operation (outpatient procedure) rather than staying overnight (inpatient procedure), according to researchers in Virginia.

Notably, the research found that the odds of complications and readmission were the same in both groups — meaning there’s no additional risk if you sleep in your own bed afterward.


The number of lower-priced providers the average patient passes while driving to the location where they get their magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) done, according to a National Bureau of Economic Research report.

That means you can probably save money and time by having your scan done closer to home.


The price U.S. hospitals charge, on average, for every $100 they spend in operating costs, according to a study by National Nurses United.

That helps explain why hospitals often charge hundreds more for standard procedures than freestanding and same-day clinics do.


According to that same National Nurses United report, this is the markup percentage charged inside the nation’s most expensive hospital system. And there are more than 100 hospitals charging markups of more than 1,000%.


The amount the average family pays per year for healthcare premiums in the United States, according to a 2021 report from the Kaiser Family Foundation. For individuals seeking single-person coverage, that number is $1,299.


The amount spent annually per person in the United States on prescription medication. This is according to a review of 11 high-income countries that was published in JAMA.

The United States ranked highest. In Switzerland, the second-highest spender, people paid more than $500 less.

You can reduce your copay by $50, on average, by switching from brand-name to generic medications. Click here for more ways to reduce the cost of your medication.


Why you should always price shop for medical care


Additional sources
Why it’s difficult to estimate the cost of care: Peterson-KFF Health System Tracker
Medical scan prices at freestanding clinics vs. hospitals: United Healthcare
Comparing outpatient vs. inpatient costs for knee surgery: Orthopaedic Journal of Sports Medicine (2017). “Cost Comparison of Outpatient Versus Inpatient Unicompartmental Knee Arthroplasty”
Price shopping for MRI scans: National Bureau of Economic Research (2018). “Are Health Care Services Shoppable? Evidence from the Consumption of Lower-Limb MRI Scans”
Report on rising hospital prices: National Nurses United (2020). “Fleecing Patients: Hospitals Charge Patients More Than Four Times the Cost of Care”
Average premiums for employer-provided healthcare: Kaiser Family Foundation
Pharmaceutical spending in high-income countries: JAMA (2018). “Health Care Spending in the United States and Other High-Income Countries
Cost of medication: Association for Accessible Medicines (2021). “The U.S. Generic and Biosimilar Medicines Savings Report