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Blood Tests can cost up to $10,000, Report Finds

Update Date: Aug 15, 2014 11:37 AM EDT
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Even though certain medical tests and procedures might be identical throughout different hospitals within the United States, several reports have found that medical costs continue to vary greatly. In a new report, Dr. Renee Hsia, who is an associate professor of emergency medicine at the University of California, San Francisco and her team of researchers focused on the costs of different blood tests. They found that depending on where people seek out medical care, a blood test could cost over $10,000.

For this study, Hsia and colleagues focused on the costs of 10 blood tests conducted at 150 different hospitals in California in 2011. The team examined data that was reported by non-federal hospitals to the California Office of Statewide Health Planning and Development. Hsia decided to focus on blood tests because they are generally automated and less likely to vary from hospital to hospital. Much to their surprise, the prices for the same types of blood tests varied greatly.

The team found that for a cholesterol panel, costs ranged from as little as $10 to as much as $10,169. A standard metabolic test that measures things such as blood sugar levels could cost anywhere from $35 to $7,303. Hsia stated that there was no one hospital that charged the most for all procedures. Instead, the costs for different tests varied greatly within the hospital as well.

"I was expecting a little variation, maybe two-fold, or even three-fold. But I wasn't expecting this amount," commented Hsia according to TIME. "There is probably nothing justifiable [for the high cost] in this case."

The researchers reported that the price gaps were still evident even after they factored in variables such as the type of hospital and the percentage of Medicaid patients at the hospital.

"When people hear about price variation, they say it's probably just one hospital, or one blood test or one procedure, and they think it's the exception rather than the rule," stated Hsia. "It's not a hospital issue, it's a fundamental problem because there is not a rational way to determine hospital pricing, and that needs to be addressed."

The authors added in their report, "These findings demonstrate the seemingly arbitrary nature of the charge setting process, making it difficult for patients to act as true consumers in this era of 'consumer-directed healthcare."

The report, "Variation in charges for 10 common blood tests in California hospitals: a cross-sectional analysis," was published in the journal, BMJ Open.

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