written by: Melanie Greenwood•edited by: Emma Lloyd•updated: 7/25/2010
Health care costs are out of control. Here is how you can lower the costs of common lab tests.
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Don't Be Blindsided by the Cost of Lab Tests
It's no secret that healthcare costs are out of control. For many patients, expanding costs are showing up on lab bills. Those with and without insurance have often been shocked by the costs of common lab tests. Fortunately, there are ways to get the tests you need without breaking the bank. Read on to learn how.
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Why Lab Bills Are So High
Lab bills are often much higher than expected because patients don't understand the billing process and don't do their homework. Doctor's offices often charge separate fees for office visit, collection of samples (such as a phlebotomy fee) and lab analysis. Also, since many doctors and labs have their own separate billing departments, labs often bill patients long after the tests are done. Often patients assume that they paid for tests when they saw their doctor and are shocked when they receive additional bills.
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The Importance of Doing Your Homework
As a patient, it is your job to make sure you know what you will be charged. If your physician wants to test you (for anything), ask for a written list of what tests need to be done. Make sure that you understand what you are to be tested for, why the test are necessary, and that you are given the proper medical names of tests, such as “lipid profile" or “complete blood count."
Once you know what you need done, ask what lab the doctor usually works with, and if there are lower-cost labs. If you are insured, call your provider's benefits department and ask about your exact coverage for the the tests you need, and if the lab the doctor wants to send you to matters. If you are not insured, or prefer to self-pay, call several labs and compare costs.
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Prepaid Tests: A Great Option for Lower-Cost Tests
Individuals without health insurance, or who are simply looking to control costs, have options other than traditional labs. One of the best options is prepaid blood tests, such as those offered by Personal Labs, a division of LabCorp (personalabs.com).
To use PersonalLabs, a patient creates an account, searches for the correct test(s) on an easy-to-use website, pays with Paypal or a credit card, then prints a receipt. The patient then goes a LabCorp lab, presents the receipt (along with a photo ID) and is emailed the results. The patient can then share the results with his or her physician.
Prepaid tests are a great option for patient and provider alike. The patient knows what he or she will be charged before placing an order, the lab doesn't have to worry about an angry or strapped patient refusing to pay, and the prices are much lower than those charged by traditional labs. For example, a dilantin level test (used to evaluate a commonly-prescribed anti-epilepsy medication) is $102 at Poudre Valley Hospital's lab (located in Fort Collins, Colorado) (Poudre, 2010). The very same test is $50.00 via PersonalLabs.
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Women's and Men's Physicals
For general healthcare, pharmacy-based clinics can be another good option. Walgreens Take Care Clinic offers a basic health evaluation, including a blood glucose and triglyceride (cholesterol) test for $65.00 (Walgreens, 2010). Planned Parenthood and county health departments also offer various sexual health services. Prices vary by area.
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FAQ Staff. Common Screening Tests.The New International Standard Medical and Health Encyclopedia. Retrieved 23 July, 2010 from http://www.faqs.org/health-encyc/index.html
Poudre Valley Health Systems Staff. (2010, 22 July). Telephone Interview.
Walgreens Take Care Clinic Staff. (2010, 22 July). Telephone Interview.