Lab test discounts, but — well, maybe not

Filed Under: Costs, Patients, Providers

Direct lab test ad

(Updated 2022) These lab test discounts sound too good to be true. That $148 cholesterol test for $18? Or $400 worth of tests for $50.45?

An Ohio doctor (and former journalist) looked at crazy lab test charges, saw that uninsured patients were going without, and came up with a better way around 2010: mailing away your blood samples to a prepaid lab test site where charges are minimal. Sounds great, right?

But the situation is changing — with independent providers either merging with others, or closing, or charging more than they once did. So if you’re going to use an online option, do your homework.

Crazy lab test price numbers

Our frequent readers recall that we like to blog about crazy math on our lab test bills.

Dr. Douglas Lefton from Fairlawn, Ohio, came up with the idea of direct-to-consumer discounted lab tests, described in this CNN article. The web site is now defunct; it used to be ineedlabs.com, and before that was prepaidlabs.com. Then ineedlabs.com began to direct traffic to mdlabtests.com, but as of Sept. 2016, both were defunct.

How it is supposed to work: Go to the site. Find a participating lab in your neighborhood from the list provided (unless you’re in one of the excluded states). Choose the test from the list, use the on-line ordering system (that means pay in advance) or do it by phone. Print  the requisition form and head to the lab. Receive results via secure email, typically within 48 hours.

The prepaid prices are a fraction of the prices charged by those very same participating labs to insurance companies, and to the uninsured people who don’t know about ineedlabs.com.

The Web site said:

“Who can use iNeedLabs.com?

“Anyone, regardless of whether there is a medical health plan in place or not.

“Those who are ‘heavy users’ of medical testing where insurance doesn’t cover their testing (iNeedLabs.com has no waiting periods orpreexisting condition limitations on lab testing.

“Anyone with a high deductible or Health Savings Account plan.

“Anyone in a ‘waiting period’ for other insurance. …

“Self-funded plans where the employer wants to save money on the company’s health benefits plan.

“Anyone who needs frequent lab tests for the same ailment or condition.

“Anyone with an ongoing medical condition not covered by their health plan.”

Update: Sorry, no more direct lab tests

It all sounds great, especially if you’re in one of those groups. But there’s one catch: They seem to be merging and failing quickly. Also they’re not available in all states.

A competitor, directlabs.com, says state law prohibits direct lab testing in New York, New Jersey and Rhode Island. DirectLabs says it is partnering with the lab giant Quest. They still seem to be up and running; another similar service is AnyLabTestNow, a franchise operation that seems to have a limited number of locations.

If I was thinking about using an online voucher option, I’d be careful to do my homework first.

Examples: healthlabs.com or Quest Direct.

Another is Everlywell,  a fairly new entrant (cholesterol and lipids test $49). On the other hand, YourLabWork seems to have a lot of typographical errors on its site, and offers a range of test bundles and a few remarkably robust prices (CBC blood test for $30.) It says not available in New Jersey, New York, Maryland, Rhode Island and Arizona.