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Medical Technology

Technological advances in health care have improved the quality of care but are almost always more expensive. Consider these facts:
  • More than 95 million CT, MRI, and PET scans are done each year in the United States at a cost of more than $100 billion
  • According to recent studies, 20 to 50 percent of the tests were not necessary because the results did not help with the diagnosis or treatment1
  • There are one-third more CT scanners and 2.5 times as many MRIs per person in the United States compared to other developed countries2
  • All of these imaging tests are raising concern about the dangers of radiation exposure; the Food & Drug Administration (FDA) is working on a project to reduce unnecessary radiation exposure from three medical imaging procedures: CT scans, nuclear medicine studies, and fluoroscopy
  • The price tag for a CT scanner is $1 million and up to $3 million for a MRI machine compared to $175,000 for an x-ray machine2
  • Look at the average costs for an image of the spine3:

    Imaging Test Cost*


    CT of cervical spine without contrast 


    CT of thoracic spine without contrast


    CT of lumbar spine without contrast


    MRI of cervical spine without contrast


    MRI of thoracic spine without contrast


    MRI of lumbar spine without contrast


    *Cost is what Wellmark pays; does not include member cost share which will vary based on benefits.
What Wellmark Is Doing
  • Working with providers to evaluate the value of new medical technology
  • Implementing programs to make sure treatment guidelines are being followed for expensive imaging tests
  • Analyzing data to determine trends and opportunities for savings
What You Can Do
  • Ask questions to find out if a test is truly necessary
  • With back pain, for example, 90 percent of the time, the pain will heal on its own within weeks and an X-ray or MRI is not recommended unless the pain lingers for four to six weeks; a 2009 study found that among Medicare patients with back pain, nearly 1 in 3 get some kind of back scan within the first month4
  • Before a test or procedure, learn about risks and if there are other options
  • Find a range of total medical cost estimates for more than 100 of the most common medical treatments and conditions by logging into myWellmark and accessing the Cost and Quality widget
  • Call Personal Health Assistant 24/7 at 1-800-724-9122 and speak with a nurse to learn more information about the surgery your doctor is recommending and what questions to ask

1Where Can $700 Billion In Waste Be Cut Annually From The U.S. Healthcare System?, Thomson Reuters, October 2009

2OECD Health Data

3Wellmark Blue Cross and Blue Shield Health Care Analytics, June 2010

4Health Affairs, Oct. 2009

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