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How to Schedule a Mammogram

Overcoming Barriers to Scheduling Your Mammogram

Many women encounter barriers when trying to schedule a mammogram. Often, things like concerns with cost or not knowing who to call can be discouraging when setting up an appointment. This article provides the essential information you need so that you do not miss out on this important exam.

What You Need to Know

Before being able to schedule a mammogram, you might need a referral from a doctor if you are under the age of 40, have already received your annual screening mammogram for the year, have an abnormal breast symptom, or have had breast cancer in the past. If you are 40 years or older and simply seeking a screening mammogram without any of the exceptions mentioned, it’s unlikely you will be asked for a doctor’s referral.

What Type of Mammogram to Schedule

  • Screening mammogram: If you don’t have any symptoms or pain, and just need your yearly mammogram.

  • Diagnostic mammogram: If you have continuous and persistent pain, redness, a lump, discharge, or other concerns that need to be evaluated. Diagnostic mammograms are also done after irregular findings in a routine screening mammogram.

Why is it Important to Know the Difference?

Screening and diagnostic mammograms differ in cost and in specialty. If you are paying for your service out of pocket or if your health insurance does not cover your diagnostic mammogram, you’ll want to know ahead of time to be prepared.

Where Can You Go to Get Your Mammogram?

Mammograms are often performed at the hospital, breast center building or an imaging center. You can also look to see if there is a mobile mammography unit (“mammovan”) that might be coming to a location near your home or work. If you need help getting to your appointment, ask the facility if they have a transportation assistance program and what their guidelines are.

Keep in mind that facilities that don’t offer medical care beyond the screening service, like imaging centers, have limited financial assistance programs available.

How to Cover the Cost of Your Mammogram

A hospital may have funds or a charity care program where they provide the mammogram for free or at a low cost. Call the hospital near you and ask to speak with a financial counselor who can explain the program and qualification requirements. You can also contact local charities that might pay for the mammogram. Be sure to check first with the organization to see if you qualify and what they will require of you.

The National Breast Cancer Foundation partners with hospitals across the country to provide screening and diagnostic mammograms to women who qualify. Learn more about our National Mammography Program and search our list of partner hospitals. If you don’t find a hospital near you, consider looking at other national resources. There are also state and national screening programs that might offer free mammograms if you are already enrolled in Medicaid or Medicare. The National Breast And Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program has a directory you can browse by state.

View our list of free resources for mammograms, healthcare providers, and more

For those with insurance, please note that plans might cover each type of mammogram differently. For example, a yearly screening mammogram will be fully covered but you might be responsible for co-pays or deductibles if additional diagnostic mammograms or exams are required. Other technology, like those used in 3D mammograms, might have additional fees.

If you can’t get a free mammogram or need assistance with additional diagnostic exams, you might still be able to get the price reduced. Here are some tips:

  • Ask if the hospital has a sliding-fee scale, where you receive a discount based on your income and household size.

  • Ask about a cash pay discount, where you negotiate a lower price if you pay that lower price all at once.

  • Ask about a payment plan, where you can pay the cost over the course of several months.

  • Ask to speak to a patient navigator, social worker and/or a financial counselor who can explain your options.

  • Some assistance programs take weeks to process applications. Consider applying to some of these programs prior to scheduling your appointment.

  • If you don’t have insurance, make sure to say that before your appointment to eliminate billing surprises after you’ve received care. For those with insurance, have your insurance information ready when you make your appointment.

Who to Talk to

Call the breast center or the hospital’s main number. Ask to be transferred to the breast center or women’s health center. Once you are transferred, ask who you should speak with about scheduling a free mammogram. If the receptionist doesn’t know, ask to speak to a patient or nurse navigator.

What to Say When you Call

Use the following phrases to help you get connected to the correct department:

  • “Hello! I am calling to schedule my mammogram.”

  • “I was referred to you about free or low-cost mammograms. Can you help me find out how I can qualify and how I can get that scheduled?

Potential Roadblocks and How to Get Around Them

If you come across the following roadblocks, consider using one of these responses. The goal is to ask questions that will lead to more options or resources that could benefit you.

“We don’t offer free mammograms here. The cost is going to be $400.”

  • Ask if they have a partner facility that might offer free or discounted mammograms.

  • If you are not interested in exploring a payment plan with this facility, consider this a great time to look at other options near you.

“I’m going to refer you to XYZ imaging company on the other side of town”

  • Ask if you will still be able to qualify for a free or low-cost mammogram through that location.

“The soonest appointment is in five months.”

  • If this doesn’t work for you, ask if they know of any other nearby facilities that could provide a mammogram sooner. If not, ask if there is a cancellation list that you can be added to at this facility.

“You need a doctor or doctor’s order to schedule this exam.”

  • If you don’t have a doctor and you are experiencing an abnormal breast symptom, try an internet search phrase like “Find a doctor near Dallas.” Many healthcare systems have online databases that will allow you to easily search for doctors by criteria, such as specialty and zip code. If you don’t have insurance, you may try searching “free and low-cost clinics near Dallas.” A family doctor or gynecologist can examine your breast symptoms and write an order for a diagnostic mammogram. If you are scheduling an appointment with a doctor for the first time, be sure to tell the scheduler that you have an abnormal breast symptom.

  • If you already have a doctor and the mammography facility requires a doctor’s order, be sure and let you doctor know that you need to schedule a mammogram, as well as any unusual breast symptoms that you are experiencing. Your doctor may want to examine you in the office before writing an order.

“We need your previous mammograms for this appointment.”

  • In certain situations, you may be required to obtain your past mammogram records, like images, films or cds, from a previous facility. If so, contact the previous facility where you had your mammogram and ask how you may obtain your prior mammography images and reports. They may ask for the mailing address of your new mammography facility.

Need Breast Cancer Resources? Check out our resource list.

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