How I Saved $1,000 On Medical Tests

We all struggle with medical care costs, and I can show you how I found a way to save a tremendous amount of money on “routine” tests.

I struggle with gout.  It’s a terrible disease that tends to attack toes, resulting in swelling and agonizing pain.  I take one pill every day that helps diminish the chances of outbreaks and have had to learn to minimize my love affair with peanut butter.  My mother had the same problem, and there appears to be a genetic predisposition to the illness.  The true culprit is more likely the blood pressure meds I take than the peanut butter, but eliminating the meds isn’t a good plan.

Attacks of gout are caused by the build-up of uric acid in the blood.  The pill I take each day is supposed to help keep the level of uric acid at a minimum, and my doctor had to steadily increase the grams in the pills until the med was effective enough.  I still have minor problems from time to time, although it now tends to attack the small toes on my right foot instead of the large toes on my left foot.

In order to make sure my uric acid levels are under control, a simple blood test is necessary.  Since I’m also getting up in years, the nurse practitioner I see periodically also wants to check a ton of other levels in my blood.  As long as we can hold it to one vial of my blood I can usually survive a blood test once a year or so.

And then a few years ago when I got a surprise from our insurance company.

In the past, the blood test was always covered as part of a doctor visit, but for reasons the stone wall at the insurance company could never make clear, suddenly the blood test was no longer treated as part of the doctor visit.  It apparently was also not wellness care, because shortly after the test was done I received a bill for nearly a thousand dollars.  Nobody gave me any reason to expect a bill, and I was left with no choice but to pay up.  Sure, I got to pay it off interest-free over the next year, but I still had to pay the bill.

Can you imagine shopping at the grocery store and getting home and getting a bill for an extra $100 to cover the labor of stocking the shelves with the items you bought?  That’s what this bill felt like – a complete, unexpected smack right between the eyes.

The next time my doctor gave me a script to get the blood tests I politely declined.  The doctor was surprised and apologized for the expense the year before.  There was no way she could have known how the insurance company would deal with the test either, but she understood my reticence to spend that kind of money again.

So she gave me an alternative.

Community Hospital in Anderson is one of our two major hospitals.  It’s a sprawling complex, with numerous outbuildings full of specialists of all sorts.  It turns out that behind the complex is an unmarked building that runs special tests for patients.  The paperwork I have for it shows the treatments as still being part of Community Hospital.  There is a single sheet of prices under the heading of “Wellness for You” that lists prices that are very, very different from the prices charged at either my doctor’s office or in the hospital proper.  Here’s a copy of the sheet.

Instead of costing $1,000, a CBC (complete blood count) is a mere $20.  Other bargains include glucose testing for diabetics for only $10, a test that Bevie needs from time to time since she’s developed Type 2 Diabetes.

How can they charge so much less?  Perhaps the answer is in the statements you have to initial on the form; here are a few of the more relevant statements:

  • I understand that results are to be mailed to me within 5 working days.
  • I understand that if I want a copy of these results to go to my doctor, I am responsible for giving him/her a copy.
  • I understand that I cannot bill my insurance for this testing, and I will not receive a bill for this service, only a receipt for payment.

Add in the stipulation that they only accept cash, no checks or credit cards, and the way they keep costs down becomes clear: the tests are performed outside of the doctor and insurance spheres that make up our current health care system.  No reporting, no billing, just a simple transaction of cash for service.

Is there a similar “hidden” building for x-rays and MRIs?  Probably, but I haven’t needed those recently, so that probably bears looking into.  Probably should look into that -before- I need them!  I know that there are fee-for-service specialty businesses popping up that operate at much lower costs for treatments and tests; next time your doctor wants to run -any- tests you should probably shop around and find out what the costs are.

If we want to control health costs, it’s increasingly important that we take responsibility for shopping around ourselves, no matter what health system Washington presents us with over the next few years.

The Ojays have their thoughts turning to Money today as well!