Blood test costs — $284 or $34 a few blocks away? Cracking the Code

Filed Under: Costs, Health plans, Patients

“When UnitedHealthcare exited the Affordable Care Act exchange in Louisiana last year, Kim Spencer was one of around 29,000 people forced to find a new insurance plan under the federal health care law. She chose Humana, then found a new primary care physician at Tulane University Medical Center, based on recommendations from friends,” our partner Jed Lipinski writes over at I The Times-Picayune in New Orleans, in the latest installment of “Cracking the Code.”

“Her new doctor did not disappoint. She was caring, engaged, and in no rush to see the next patient, Spencer said. A month later, when an $88 bill arrived from Tulane, Spencer paid it the same day, assuming it was the co-pay for the visit.

“Then another bill showed up. It claimed Spencer, 61, owed an additional $323 for the routine blood work the doctor ordered. Spencer immediately called her doctor, who connected her to Tulane’s billing department. Two months of emails and phone calls followed, none of which answered Spencer’s question: Why was she charged so much for a few simple blood tests?

“What Spencer didn’t know is that the same blood tests could be had for a fraction of the cost at nearby clinics. Records show her insurer determined she owed $284 for a comprehensive metabolic panel, a common blood test that assesses kidney and liver function, among other things. Quest Diagnostics in Gretna charges $34 in cash for the same test, according to a database of cash prices compiled by | The Times-Picayune and WVUE Fox 8 News. Ochsner Medical Center charges $40, and Clinical Pathology Labs charges just $19 – a fifteenth of what Tulane asked Spencer to pay for the same service.” Jed Lipinski, “‘Can’t bring myself to give them that money’: Finding out your $284 blood test costs $34 nearby.”

Here’s the FOX 8 Live story by our partner Lee Zurik, “Routine blood work leads to shocking bills for many consumers.” Click on the link or the image at right.

For more from our series, go to this page describing the Cracking the Code partnership of I The Times-Picayune, WVUE FOX 8 Live and ClearHealthCosts, and cataloging our news coverage. For more on our national partnerships, go to this page.

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