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Groupons are particularly common for imaging services like MRIs. Photo: Stephane De Sakutin/AFP/Getty Images

If you're looking for some certainty about how much a health care test will cost you, the best solution may be a maddening one — buying a Groupon.

Why it matters: These coupons do often give patients a good and predictable price, which can be hard to come by, especially for the uninsured. But they're also a signal that volume — not value — is the driving force in the business of health care.

Details: NPR has a close look at this trend, which first started bubbling up on Twitter late last month.

  • Groupons seem to be especially popular for outpatient imaging services, like MRIs and CT scans — tests that are already susceptible to overuse.
  • In Atlanta, you can get a heart CT scan for as little as $26. The coupons sell well, and NPR quotes providers saying they started offering the discounts simply because their competitors were.

Medical Groupons can help fill gaps in insurance coverage — that’s a big selling point for dental Groupons, and could also help explain the popularity of Groupons for services like mammograms. Insurance usually covers those, but that only helps you if you have insurance.

My thought bubble: There is only one reason for providers to offer up complex medical testing on Groupon — to generate volume. Big-name hospital systems may not be offering online coupons, but they, too, are trying to drive volume

  • Everybody loves to talk about value and patient-centered care and the right care in the right context and so on. But Groupons are not the sign of a system that's trying very hard to do any of those things.
  • They're a sign of a system that still rewards doing more stuff, whether it's necessary or not.

Go deeper

Updated 2 hours ago - Politics & Policy

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Illustration: Annelise Capossela/Axios

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  2. Politics: Biden readies massive shifts in policy for his first days in office.
  3. Vaccine: Fauci: 100 million doses in 100 days is "absolutely" doable.
  4. Economy: Unemployment filings explode again.
  5. Tech: Kids' screen time sees a big increase.
  6. World: WHO team arrives in China to investigate pandemic origins.
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Navalny and his wife shortly before he was detained. Photo: Kirill Kudryavtsev/AFP via Getty

Russian opposition leader Alexey Navalny was detained upon his return to Moscow on Sunday, which came five months after he was poisoned with the nerve agent Novichok. He returned despite being warned that he would be arrested.

The latest: Navalny was stopped at a customs checkpoint and led away alone by officers. He appeared to hug his wife goodbye, and his spokesman reports that his lawyer was not allowed to accompany him.

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Biden's "overwhelming force" doctrine

President-elect Biden arrives to introduce his science team in Wilmington yesterday. Photo: Kevin Lamarque/Reuters

President-elect Biden has ordered up a shock-and-awe campaign for his first days in office to signal, as dramatically as possible, the radical shift coming to America and global affairs, his advisers tell us. 

The plan, Part 1 ... Biden, as detailed in a "First Ten Days" memo from incoming chief of staff Ron Klain, plans to unleash executive orders, federal powers and speeches to shift to a stark, national plan for "100 million shots" in three months.