On September 28, 2016, a 3-year-old girl named Elodie Fowler slid into an MRI machine at Lucile Packard Children's Hospital in Palo Alto, California. Doctors wanted to better understand a rare genetic condition that was causing swelling along the right side of her body and problems processing regular food.
The scan took about 30 minutes. The hospital's doctors used the results to start Elodie on an experimental new drug regimen.
Fowler's parents knew the scan might cost them a few thousand dollars, based on their research into typical pediatric MRI scans. Even though they had one of the most generous Obamacare exchange plans available in California, they decided to go out of network to a clinic that specialized in their daughter's rare genetic condition. That meant their plan would cover half of a "fair price" MRI.
They were shocked a few months later when a bill arrived with a startling price tag: $25,000. The bill included $4,016 for the anesthesia, $2,703 for a recovery room, and $16,632 for the scan itself plus doctor fees. The insurance picked up only $1,547.23, leaving the family responsible for the difference: $23,795.47.