The Average American Doesn’t Know How Much These Common Medical Procedures Actually Cost

It’s hard to explain why health care costs so much in America. The system produces mixed outcomes, making it hard to know how much you’ll pay for services. For example, an ER visit in one city or hospital will cost $1,000. In another location, it’ll be $5,000. It’s frustrating and expensive. 

Here are the most common medical procedures most of us get wrong concerning price. You’ll be stunned by the cost of even an average dental exam (page 10).

1. Flu shot: overestimated by 41%

A doctor readying a syringe
A doctor readying a syringe |
  • Average cost: $15-$40

A lot of people aren’t happy to have a syringe plunged into their arm. And when you add in the fact that you have to pay for it? Many people skip it. But a flu shot is 41% cheaper than expected. And it’s worth skipping the flu.

2. Colonoscopy: underestimated by 65%

doctor talking to a male patient in an exam room
A doctor talks to a patient. |
  • Average cost: $3,000

Colonoscopies are invasive and shocking — and that’s just the procedure. It might feel like a reprobing once you get the bill; 65% more than the average person expects. So, how much should you pay for a pipe inspection? It’ll vary, but Bankrate pegs the average cost at just over $3,000.

Next: One reason why many people skip the emergency room

3. Non-emergency ER visit: overestimated by 7%

Hospital entrance | Gabe Ginsberg/Getty Images
  • Average cost: $150-$900 on average

Your location, illness, and many other factors will determine your ER bills. But, interestingly enough, Americans are pretty good at guessing how much a non-emergency visit to the ER will cost. Americans overestimate these costs by just 7%, reports InsuranceQuotes.

Next: Plain and simple, but still pricey

4. Doctor’s visit: overestimated by 29%

Medical physician doctor woman writing with laptop on table
A doctor’s visit |
  • Average cost: $28-$234

A plain old doctor’s visit — that’s not too bad, right? If you’re strapped for cash or lack insurance, it’s a bigger expense. But that perception is, to an extent, warped. The average doctor’s visit, per InsuranceQuotes, is 29% less than the average person thinks. Again, the cost can vary in a huge way.

5. Bypass surgery: overestimated by 13%

Operating tools
Operating tools | Mahmoud Zayyat/AFP/Getty Images
  • Average cost: $117,094 on average

Most of us won’t need bypass surgery. The bad news for those who need it: There’s no way to bypass the costs. The average price is well into the five and sometimes six figures. But many Americans think bypass surgery is more than that by 13%.

Next: Getting a picture of your brain isn’t cheap.

6. MRI: overestimated by 38%

brain imaging
Brain imaging |
  • Average cost: over $2,600

MRIs are intimidating for a number of reasons. First of all, you’re probably freaking out about what the MRI might reveal. Then, you’re shoved in that coffin-like tube. None of it is fun, and you know it’s not going to be cheap. But there’s good news. A MRI is 38% cheaper than most of us anticipate. That doesn’t mean it’s cheap.

7. Childbirth: underestimated by 9%

A pregnant woman
A pregnant woman |
  • Average cost: $19,000 on average

Although Americans can estimate the cost of a C-section birth with sniper-like accuracy, they’re a little farther from the target when it comes to a traditional vaginal birth. According to the report, Americans underestimate how much a vaginal birth will cost by 9%.

8. Strep test: underestimated by 24%

Recruits get a throat swabbing
Recruits get a throat swabbing. | Cpl. Anthony D. Pike/Getty Images
  • Average cost: around $100 (at CVS)

Getting a strep test isn’t something you’ll have to get done all that often, and when you do, it’s not really fun. But there’s one thing you’ll need to keep in mind: It’s going to be more costly than you think. The report said a strep test will run you 24% more than the average American anticipates.

9. ER visit: underestimated by 34%

ER entrance from the street
ER entrance | Bryan Steffy/Getty Images
  • Average cost: $1,000-$20,000

We’ve discussed visits to the ER (non-emergency) and urgent care (also non-emergency). But what about a legit medical crisis? That’ll cost you way more than expected. The report says ER bills, on average, are 34% more expensive than people anticipate.

Next: Do you dread going to the dentist?

10. Dental exam: overestimated by 42%

A dentist examines an x-ray
A dentist examines an x-ray. |
  • Average cost: $127-$198 on average

The dentist’s office is one of the least-fun places in America. It’s often painful. The hygienist shames you for not flossing. There are a lot of reasons not to go. But cost shouldn’t be one of them. The average dental exam costs 42% less than expected, per InsuranceQuotes.

11. C-section: underestimated by 1%

surgical tools
Surgical tools |
  • Average cost: $50,000 on average

When it comes to guessing health care costs, the apex of the average American’s accuracy lands on one procedure: the C-section. The average American overestimates the price of a typical C-section by only 1% — closer than any other on the list. They’re not cheap, however. The average C-section will still run you roughly the cost of a BMW.

12. Appendectomy: underestimated by 115%

Medical team preparing equipment for surgery
A medical team prepares for surgery. |
  • Average cost: $33,000

According to the report, the single health care cost the average person underestimates the most is an appendectomy. Unfortunately, the removal of an appendix isn’t the sort of thing you can choose to have done. If it needs to come out, they must snag it. And it’ll cost 115% more than you think.

13. 30-day prescription for painkillers: overestimated by 10%

pain killer pills on blue background
Painkillers |

America has a problem with painkillers. They’re as pervasive in our communities today as any other drug or illicit substance. Perhaps that’s one of the reasons we are more or less on the mark when it comes to estimating the cost of a 30-day supply. Americans are within 10% when guesstimating painkiller costs, according to InsuranceQuotes.

14. Non-emergency visit to urgent care: overestimated by 50%

A hospital worker pushes a cart past the patient information center
A hospital worker pushes a cart past the patient information center. | Mike Simons/Getty Images
  • Average cost: $100-$200

A non-emergency visit to urgent care is the most overestimated health care cost out there, per InsuranceQuotes’ report. Although costs can vary wildly, Americans overestimate this cost by 50%.

15. 30-day prescription for blood pressure medication: underestimated by 9%

white pills spread out on a table
Pills on a table |

Earlier, we discussed painkiller costs; people tended to overestimate it. Blood pressure medications, however, are a different story. The cost for a 30-day supply of blood pressure medicine is 9% more than expected, reports InsuranceQuotes. Depending on the medicine, costs will vary.

16. Eye exam: underestimated by 11%

man getting an eye exam at the optometrist's office
A man gets an eye exam. |
  • Average cost: $50-$150

Eye exams aren’t usually as dreadful as dental exams. Regardless, you have to be prepared for the exam to cost a little more than you think. The average American underestimates the cost of an eye exam by 11%.

17. Knee replacement: underestimated by 5%

A man experiencing knee issues
A man experiences knee issues. |
  • Average cost: $50,000 on average

A knee replacement tends to be 5% more expensive than anticipated. The average cost of a knee replacement is around $50,000.

18. 1-day hospital stay: underestimated by 85%

A nurse works alongside a patient
A nurse works alongside a patient. | Mike Simons/Getty Images

If a doctor says you’ll have to stay in the hospital, prepare for sticker shock. In fact, you should use that free time to come to terms with the price. On average, it’ll cost 85% more than you think, per InsuranceQuotes. How much are we talking? In some cases, it will be around $10,000 per night.

See the complete report at