In this article we cover:
- What is an MRI?
- What are MRIs used for?
- What happens during an MRI?
- How much does an MRI cost?
- Are MRIs covered by ACC?
- Does private health insurance cover MRIs?
What is an MRI?
An MRI, or Magnetic Resonance Imaging, is a medical imaging technique that uses a magnetic field and computer-generated radio waves to create detailed images of the organs and tissues inside the human body.
MRIs are non-invasive, and create 3D images that can be analysed in-depth, giving specialists a clear idea of what’s going on in a body, without resorting to invasive procedures such as surgery.
Unlike x-rays and CT scans, MRIs do not use radiation, so they are a safer medical procedure. However, they are more expensive.
What are MRIs used for?
MRI scans are typically used to investigate and diagnose conditions that affect soft tissues, such as:
- Tumors, including cancer
- Soft tissue injuries including damaged ligaments
- Joint injury or disease
- Spinal injury or disease
- Injury or disease of internal organs
MRIs don’t visualise bone very well, which is why they aren’t typically used as an alternative to x-raying fractures.
What happens during an MRI?
Before an MRI, the patient is instructed to remove all metal objects including glasses, watches and jewellery. Also to remove any wigs, dentures and hearing aids, as these can interact with the MRI machine.
During an MRI, the patient lies on a bed that travels through the MRI scanner – usually a smooth, white tube. The bed may be adjusted several times during the scan. The operators keep in touch with the patient via a speaker system or a set of headphones.
Once underway, patients may be asked to lie still and hold their breath for a short period of time. They may also experience a vibrating or knocking sound – this is the sound of the machine switching between frequencies. These radio waves stimulate the hydrogen atoms in the body and their movement is picked up and interpreted by the machine to produce medical images.
An MRI can take anywhere from 15 minutes to an hour.
Once complete, the images are interpreted by a radiologist – a specialist medical doctor trained to diagnose using imaging.
How much does an MRI cost?
The price of an MRI scan varies depending on which part of the body is being scanned. For example, a MRI knee scan is typically around $1000, a lower-back scan is approx $3000, but a scan of the renal (kidney) arteries can cost over $83,000.
Are MRIs covered by ACC?
In the event of an accident, all public MRI scans are fully covered by ACC.
And, fortunately for New Zealand citizens, all public MRI scans are fully funded under the Public Health and Disability Act. Certain visa holders and citizens from countries with reciprocal healthcare may be covered for MRIs as well.
However, if you don’t meet any of the criteria, or are seeking private treatment, you might be forced to bear the brunt of the bill.
Does private health insurance cover MRIs?
While urgent cases are priorisited and (in theory) don’t have much of a wait time, non-urgent cases can be left waiting for a scan for up to 10 weeks. In this case, going private might be the best option. However, the convenience of private healthcare often comes at a steep price. To avoid a huge bill, it’s worthwhile checking out what health insurance options are available.
The following health insurance providers offer plans that cover at least part of the cost for MRI scans:
AA Health Insurance has one health insurance plan that offers some cover for MRI scans:
- Private Hospital and Specialist Cover: AA’s most comprehensive health insurance policy. Up to $5000 per year for CT, MRI or PET scans
Accuro offers two health insurance plans that provide cover for diagnostic imaging, including MRIs:
- SmartCare: Accuro’s lower cost comprehensive health insurance policy. Up to $300,000 per year for major diagnostic procedures
- SmartCare+: Accuro’s premium health insurance policy. Up to $500,000 per year for major diagnostic procedures
AIA offers one health insurance policy that provides cover for major diagnostic imaging and tests, which includes MRI scanning:
- Private Health: covers a range of medical conditions. Up to $200,000 per year for diagnostic imaging
ASB offers two health insurance policies that provide cover for major diagnostic imaging which includes MRIs:
- Private health: covers the significant costs of hospitalisation and surgery. Up to $200,000 per year for major diagnostic imaging
- Private health plus: ASB’s most comprehensive private health insurance policy. Up to $200,000 per year for major diagnostic imaging plus an additional $100,000 for imaging and tests not related to treatment or surgery
nib offers two health insurance plans that cover diagnostic imaging, which includes MRIs:
- Standard hospital plan: helps cover the big health costs of private healthcare. Cover for diagnostic investigations before and after a related hospital admission. Cover up to the hospital surgical or medical benefit limit
- Premium hospital plan: nib’s most comprehensive private healthcare cover. Cover for diagnostic investigations whether or not they relate to admission to a recognised private hospital. Up to $5000 for CT, MRI and PET scans not related to a hospital admission
Partners Life offers one health insurance plan that covers diagnostic imaging, which includes MRIs:
- Private Medical Cover: enables access to private medical treatment. Up to $200,000 per year for diagnostic imaging
Southern Cross offers five health insurance plans that provides cover for diagnostic imaging, which includes MRI scanning:
- Kiwicare: shared surgical healthcare cover. Up to $8000 per year for diagnostic imaging
- RegularCare: shared surgical and healthcare with day-to-day health cover. Up to $8000 per year year for diagnostic imaging
- Wellbeing One: surgical and healthcare cover. Up tp $60,000 per year for diagnostic imaging
- Wellbeing Two: comprehensive surgical and healthcare cover. Up to $60,000 per year for diagnostic imaging
- UltraCare: premium surgical and healthcare with day-to-day health cover. Up to $100,000 per year for diagnostic imaging
UniMed offers three health insurance plans that provide cover for diagnostic imaging, including MRIs:
- Health Positive: cover for everyday health costs. Up to $5000 per year for diagnostic imaging
- Hospital Select Plus: UniMed’s most extensive health plan. Combined maximum of $300,000 for all diagnostic imaging
- UniCare Advantage: contributes to some everyday health costs, specialist treatment and diagnostic testing. Combined maximum of $10,000 for all diagnostic imaging
About the author of this page
This report was written by Canstar Content Producer, Caitlin Bingham. Caitlin is an experienced writer whose passion for creativity led her to study communication and journalism. She began her career freelancing as a content writer, before joining the Canstar team.