This is going to hurt: $343 lipid tests and $2,924 MRIs

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The price of a lipid panel can vary by as much as $328 in Dallas and by as little as $16 in Birmingham, Ala. An analysis by the health services company Castlight Health also found Fresno, Calif., to be a relative bargain for a head CT scan, a lower back MRI and a visit with a primary care physician.

Castlight calculated in-network price differences for four outpatient procedures for commercially insured patients in U.S. cities. The San Francisco-based business, which assists employers with healthcare benefit issues, said it conducted the analysis to make pricing more transparent and to illuminate the variability in pricing.

Austin, Texas, scored the highest average price for a lipid panel, at $94. Dallas prices ranged from a low of $15 to a high of $343, with an average of $47. Birmingham, Ala., and Raleigh, N.C., offered the lowest average price, at $17. Fresno averaged $23 with a range of $15 to $119.

Patients in Fort Wayne, Ind., faced some of the steepest prices for a head CT scan, at an average of $1,539 and a range of $1,410 to $1,646. A scan in Buffalo, by comparison, cost on average $505 with a range of $310 to $1,041. The average in Raleigh was $597 ($218-$1,392) and in Fresno $524 ($333-$1,123).

Nationwide, prices for lower back MRIs could vary by more than $2,000. The average price for a lower back MRI in Sacramento, Calif., came in at $2,635 ($2,294-$2,924) compared with an average of $676 in Fresno ($636-$921). A primary care visit cost on average $251 in San Francisco ($117-$461) compared with $90 in Huntsville, Ala. ($86-$90) and $117 in Fresno ($104-$121).

Analysts based their results on medical claims data, public information and provider information. Prices were the sum of the amount paid by the customer plus the employee’s shared cost.