Where can I get a cheap ultrasound?
August 21, 2009 3:02 PM   Subscribe

I'm in need of an ultrasound. I have insurance but still cannot afford it. Is there anywhere in Houston that I can go to that would be much cheaper than 400+ dollars?

My doctor would like me to have a pelvic ultrasound. The first place I went to, a hospital, wants 400+ at the time of service - Monday. That's to meet the deductible of my insurance (humana PPO). I don't have that much money to put out right away. Is there a clinic or somewhere that I can go to that would be cheaper or is this a set rate since I haven't met my deductable?
posted by grablife365 to Health & Fitness (14 answers total)
A lot of hospitals will work out payment plans with patients who don't have the upfront cash, so that's another angle to pursue.
posted by Sidhedevil at 3:10 PM on August 21, 2009

Local technical colleges that train ultrasound techs might do one for little or no cost.
posted by chiababe at 3:16 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

Hospitals vary A LOT in their prices, so it's definitely worth calling up a few to check. Also, hospitals in general are more expensive places to have imaging done than stand-alone facilities that do nothing other than imaging--you could check the Yellow Pages for "Medical Imaging" or maybe "MRI" (often those places all sorts of imaging, not just MRIs) and also call a few of those to check out prices. You'd want to make sure that if you went to one of those stand-alone facilities that the cost would count against your deductible, though.

There's also websites out there that purport to list the prices of different procedures for hospitals in certain cities--I have no idea how accurate they are, but you might want to check something like that out to get an idea of cheaper hospitals to call. One website that looks like it has information for pelvic ultrasounds in Houston is this website (again, I can't vouch for its accuracy, it's just the first one that came up on google).
posted by iminurmefi at 3:33 PM on August 21, 2009 [1 favorite]

The hospital will also operate some kind of charity care program. Depending on your assets and income level, you might qualify under it to have some or all of the patient liability portion of your balance adjusted off.

Search the hospital's website for "charity care" and they might have a copy of their charity care policies and perhaps of an application form online. Or you could call the hospital up and ask to be connected to a financial counselor to ask about your eligibility for the program.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 4:09 PM on August 21, 2009

The last time I went to an ob/gyn, they had an ultrasound machine in their office. I have no idea what they charged for it but I imagine it's cheaper than the hospital. Maybe you can call your doc's office, tell them the problem, and ask for a recommendation?
posted by txvtchick at 4:15 PM on August 21, 2009

Thanks so much for the answers, all.
iminurmefi, the site worked wonderfully. I found quite a few places, called to make sure and she gave me that amount they had listed and a quick appointment in a few days. Granted it may be differ a little after they get with my insurance (they'll call beforehand to let me know) but nonetheless the site was very helpful.
Thank you.

*umm, disclaimer if at all needed: the site worked for me but may not work for you. Use with caution?
posted by grablife365 at 4:21 PM on August 21, 2009

You might try calling St. Luke's Episcopal. They have community outreach programs, and one might be obstetrics on a sliding-scale payment.

Planned Parenthood also offers prenatal services. Call them to find out which ones can offer an ultrasound (the one downtown has an ultrasound, but its used to confirm pregnancy terminations, so that's not the one you want).

The two "charity" hospitals in Houston are Ben Taub and LBJ. Obviously, Ben Taub is a top-notch hospital in its own rights; I don't know anything about LBJ. But, they are only "charity" in that they work out payments, accept the Gold Card/Medicaid, and so on. So, they are worth a call because they may be able to provide an ultrasound for less money as they are both very used to patients who are a little short for money.
posted by Houstonian at 4:32 PM on August 21, 2009

You don't state why you need this and occasionally men need u/s or women need non-pregnancy related ultrasounds. If so, please be aware that the hospitals mentioned above by Houstonian will also provide non-obstetrical ultrasounds and services, in case you are not looking for a pregnancy related ultrasound.

And just for the sake of Planned Parenthood's reputation, my experience is that PP uses ultrasound to date pregnancies for all kinds of reasons, only one of which is termination of pregnancy, so you might still consider them if you are in need of an obstetrical u/s. The Downtown PP in Houston offers a wide range of services, including terminations, whereas some of the other PP locations in Houston do not perform terminations, so if you are sensitive to that issue, you might chose a PP clinic with that in mind.
posted by beaning at 5:47 PM on August 21, 2009

Even if you're paying out-of-pocket because you haven't met your deductible yet, the fact that you have insurance matters, in the following way: the insurance companies negotiate discounted rates for services, which you are still entitled to as long as you're insured, even if you haven't yet met your deductible. These discounted rates vary widely, and I'm not sure if the website that lists prices would take that into account. So you may want to call your insurer and ask at which places its discounted rates are lowest.
posted by palliser at 6:56 AM on August 22, 2009

Re-reading your follow-up, it's possible that even if the place you called started out the cheapest, it may no longer be the cheapest if its discount to your insurer is not as deep as other places'.
posted by palliser at 6:58 AM on August 22, 2009

I don't want to start another thread (row) about the American Health Care system vs the NHS, but as a Brit, can someone just explain what a deductible is? I thought if you were insured you were insured?
posted by A189Nut at 10:16 AM on August 22, 2009

You pay everything until you hit the deductible, then they pay everything. So if she needs $100 of medical care this year, she pays $100. If she needs $10,000 worth of care, she pays $400. The higher the deductible, the cheaper the insurance becomes. (This means if you get cancer, you can afford treatment, but if you just have a cold, you don't waste the doctor's time and the insurer's money. Or something.)
posted by jrockway at 11:09 AM on August 22, 2009

I believe in the UK, what we call "deductible" you call "excess". It's the amount you pay out of pocket before the insurance covers the expenses. It's like your excess (our deductible) for auto insurance, except in this case it's for health insurance.
posted by Houstonian at 11:28 AM on August 22, 2009

Under the US system, even after the insured pays out their full deductible, depending on their specific insurance coverage, there are other situations that could see the patient out of pocket, such as co-insurance, where the insured still has to pay a percentage of the provider's charges in excess of their deductible (less the contractual adjustment for the insurer's negotiated discount with the provider, and often only up to a higher limit called the out-of-pocket maximum) or co-payments, where the insured pays a fixed amount, irrespective of the provider's charges, for specific services.

Also, if the hospital's charges are denied by the insurance carrier for certain reasons (e.g., for a non-covered service under the patient's insurance plan, or if the demographic information for the patient that the provider files on the insurance claim doesn't match the information the insurer has on record), then the provider will normally charge the patient for the balance. Charges denied for certain other reasons (e.g., the insurance carrier rules that the services provided were not medically necessary given the patient's condition) would more often, though not always, be eaten by the provider than transferred to patient responsibility.

If this all sounds hideously complicated, that's because it is.
posted by strangely stunted trees at 3:28 PM on August 23, 2009

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