Medical costs can add up to a large chunk of a budget, especially when unexpected emergencies happen. Being mindful of these expenses is an important part of financial planning. Unlike other line items, medical costs affect a person’s budget throughout their lifetime. And while health insurance will cover some costs, it doesn’t cover everything.
To measure cost changes for basic medical care needs, SmartAsset compared prices for a basic medical basket, which includes uninsured visits to the doctor, dentist and optometrist – as well as the cost of prescription insulin and a bottle of ibuprofen – in more than 200 U.S. places in 2023 and 2022.
- On average, Americans pay more than $850 per year for doctor visits and prescriptions. The average cost of prescription insulin is $498, while the average doctor’s visit costs $125 in the US. Dentist and optometrist appointments average $111 and $119.50, respectively.
- A visit to the doctor costs $229 in Seattle, WA – more than anywhere else. Neighboring Kitsap County is not far behind at No. 2 ($226). Many Wisconsin areas also have some of the highest priced doctor visits, including Marshfield ($222), Madison ($221), Fond du Lac ($214) and Milwaukee ($188). Meanwhile, it costs $170 in San Francisco and $144 in New York City.
- Prescription insulin can cost more than $600 in this city. Residents in St. Cloud, MN pay most for insulin – an average of $618 for one carton of five pens. The average sits at $489, after increasing 4.7% from Q1 2022 to Q1 2023. Augusta, GA and Hilton Head Island, SC have the second- and third-most expensive prescription costs at $560 and $556, respectively. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, Hilton Head Island has a particularly high population of residents aged 65 or older – 38.9%.
- In Fayetteville, AR, basic medical care costs increased by 43% in one year. More than half of this $259 increase across the medical basket can be attributed to higher prescription costs, though a visit to the doctor will also cost you $60 more. The next highest year-over-year increases were 29% in Yakima, WA and 25% in Provo-Orem, UT.
- In some of the nation’s most expensive cities, average medical costs are actually falling year over year. Although Seattle has the highest cost for a doctor’s visit, the medical basket fell from $949 in 2022 to $942 in 2023. The same can be said for San Francisco, Sacramento, Boston and Portland, where prices dropped by up to 5% year over year.
Highest medical costs in the US
1. St Cloud, MN
St. Cloud’s high medical expenses don’t coincide with the fact that its cost of living is roughly 4% below average. That price tag grew by just 1.3% year over year – lower than the inflation rate, but high enough to maintain the top spot from 2022.
2. Marshfield, WI
The cost of the medical basket in Marshfield is just $27 shy of St. Cloud’s at $1,076. In particular, Marshfield’s high score comes from having the most expensive of any optometrist visit at $269. The city also has the second-highest doctor’s visit cost at $226.
3. Everett, WA
Everett’s basket of medical goods costs $1,072. With the third-highest optometrist cost and fifth-highest prescription costs, residents are used to paying hefty prices: The general cost of living in Everett is about 26% higher than average.
4. Tacoma, WA
About an hour’s drive south of Everett, Tacoma has similarly high basic medical costs. It’s got the 10th-highest prescription costs ($541) and eighth-highest doctor’s visit costs ($196.67). Overall, the medical basket costs $1,053.
5. Terre Haute, IN
While Terre Haute has a below average prescription cost at $438, it has the highest costs for a dentist visit in 2023. Doctor and optometrist visits are roughly 20% higher than average, at $145 and $150, respectively.
6. Hilton Head, SC
Hilton Head’s basket of medical goods and services total $1,008. The high aggregate costs is partially due to having the third-highest prescription costs at $557, and a relatively high rate for an optometrist appointment at $211. Other basic medical costs are within dollars of average.
7. Olympia, WA
Olympia offers lower than average prescription prices but it makes the top 10 most expensive places for basic medical care due to higher than average appointment costs. Doctor appointments cost $141 and dentist appointments $172, while this city has the second-highest cost for an optometrist at $246.
8. Winchester, VA
With an aggregate cost of $1,002 for the medical basket, appointments and prescriptions are all above average. In particular, dentist appointments are fourth-highest at $187, compared to the median of $111.
9. Yakima, WA
The same medical basket that was reported to average $775 in the beginning of 2022 costs $997 in 2023 – nearly a 29% increase in one year. This is the second-highest increase in medical costs across the study. Most specifically, prescription costs increased by $180.
10. Moses Lake, WA
Though ibuprofen takes up the smallest piece of the pie in terms of basic medical costs, Moses Lake ranks fifth-most expensive at $11.82. Similarly, it’s above average in all the other categories, putting the aggregate basket at $994.
Data and methodology
This study examined data from the Council for Community and Economic Research’s Cost of Living Index for cities with available data. Data includes prices of an optometrist visit, doctor visit, dentist visit, bottle of ibuprofen and quarterly expenditure on prescription medicine. Absolute price data comes from Q1 2023, while data evaluating price growth compares Q1 2023 to Q1 2022. Q1 2023 price data includes 266 cities for which data was available. Price-growth data examines 210 of those same cities for which data was available. Only places in the contiguous United States were considered.
- Data is self-reported. The same groups of people may not be polled from quarter to quarter.
- Data was not available for all cities in 2022, limiting the price-growth comparison as compared to the scope of the absolute price data in 2023.
- Alaskan and Hawaiian cities ranked particularly highly when included. They were excluded from the results because they each face unique challenges for pricing due to their geographic distance from the rest of the U.S. economy.
Stacker is a news organization that produces and distributes data journalism to the world’s news organizations. Founded in 2017, Stacker combines data analysis with rich editorial context, drawing on authoritative sources and subject matter experts to drive storytelling. This article has been republished pursuant to a CC BY-NC 4.0 License.