Out for Blood? For Routine Lab Work, the Hospital Billed Her $2,400

Reesha Ahmed was on cloud 9.

It was January and Ahmed was at an OB-GYN’s workplace close to her dwelling in Venus, Texas, for her first prenatal checkup. After an ultrasound, getting anti-nausea treatment, and discussing her being pregnant care plan, she mentioned, a nurse made a handy suggestion: Head to the lab simply down the corridor for the standard panel of exams.

The lab was inside Texas Well being Hospital Mansfield, which opened in December 2020 in a Dallas-Fort Price suburb. Ahmed, simply eight weeks pregnant, mentioned the physician instructed her all the pieces concerning the go to was routine. “Nothing actually stood out,” Ahmed mentioned. “And, after all, there’s simply loads of pleasure, and so I actually didn’t suppose twice about something.”

Her blood exams checked for a number of sexually transmitted infections, her blood sort, and numerous hormones. Inside days, Ahmed started bleeding and her pleasure turned to worry. A repeat ultrasound in early February confirmed no fetus.

“My coronary heart sort of fell aside at that second as a result of I knew precisely what that meant,” she mentioned. She would have a miscarriage.

Then the payments got here.

The Affected person: Reesha Ahmed, 32, has an Anthem Blue Cross and Blue Protect coverage by her employer.

Medical Companies: An evaluation of Pap smear outcomes and several other blood exams in tandem with Ahmed’s preliminary prenatal go to, together with full blood rely, blood sort, and testing for STIs reminiscent of hepatitis B, syphilis, and HIV.

Service Supplier: Ahmed received her exams at Texas Well being Mansfield, a tax-exempt hospital collectively operated by Texas Well being Sources, a faith-based nonprofit well being system, and AdventHealth, one other non secular nonprofit.

Whole Invoice: The hospital charged $9,520.02 for the blood exams and pathology companies. The insurer negotiated that all the way down to $6,700.50 after which paid $4,310.38, leaving Ahmed with a lab invoice of $2,390.12.

What Offers: Ahmed’s scenario reveals how hospital-based labs usually cost excessive costs for exams. Even when suppliers are in community, a affected person might be on the hook for hundreds of {dollars} for widespread blood exams which are far cheaper in different settings. Analysis reveals hospitals sometimes cost rather more than physicians’ places of work or impartial industrial labs for a similar exams.

The scenario was significantly tough for Ahmed as a result of she had misplaced the being pregnant.

“To return to phrases with it mentally, emotionally, bodily — coping with the ramifications of the miscarriage — after which having to muster up the preventing power to then begin calling your insurance coverage, and the billing division, the supplier’s workplace, attempting to battle again a invoice that you simply don’t really feel such as you had been appropriately despatched? It’s simply, it’s quite a bit,” she mentioned.

In Texas, the identical lab exams had been no less than six instances as costly in a hospital as in a physician’s workplace, in line with analysis from the Well being Care Price Institute, a nonprofit that examines well being spending.

The markup might be even larger relying on the take a look at. HCCI knowledge, primarily based on 2019 costs, reveals the median worth for an entire blood rely in Texas was $6.34 at an impartial lab and $58.22 at a hospital. Texas Well being charged Ahmed $206.69 for that take a look at alone.

“It’s handy to get your lab accomplished proper in the identical constructing,” mentioned Jessica Chang, a senior researcher at HCCI, however “many sufferers aren’t excited about how extremely marked up these lab exams are.” Chang mentioned she suspects many hospitals tack on their overhead prices after they invoice insurance coverage.

Anthem additionally charged Ahmed for no less than 4 exams that the majority insurance policy would think about preventive care and due to this fact lined for gratis to sufferers beneath the Inexpensive Care Act’s necessities for overlaying preventive care, which incorporates facets of prenatal care. Her EOBs, or “clarification of advantages” notices, present she paid out-of-pocket for a take a look at figuring out her Rh issue — which detects a protein on the floor of pink blood cells — in addition to for exams for hepatitis B, hepatitis C, and syphilis.

Requested to evaluate Ahmed’s exams, Anthem spokesperson Emily Snooks wrote in an electronic mail to KFF Well being Information that the claims “had been submitted as diagnostic — not preventive — and had been paid in line with the advantages within the member’s well being plan.”

There “positively shouldn’t be” out-of-pocket prices for these screenings, mentioned Sabrina Corlette, co-director of Georgetown College’s Heart on Well being Insurance coverage Reforms.

The Facilities for Illness Management and Prevention recommends screening pregnant sufferers for a number of infectious ailments that pose main dangers throughout being pregnant. Ina Park, a professor of household group drugs on the College of California-San Francisco and an knowledgeable on STIs, mentioned the exams Ahmed obtained didn’t increase pink flags from a medical perspective. “It’s actually extra what the precise lab charged primarily based on what the exams truly value,” Park mentioned. “This can be a actually exorbitant worth.”

For instance, Ahmed paid $71.86 in coinsurance for a hepatitis B take a look at for which the hospital charged $418.55. The hospital charged $295.52 to display for syphilis; her out-of-pocket value was $50.74.

“You simply marvel, is the insurance coverage firm actually negotiating with this supplier as aggressively as they need to to maintain the reimbursement to an inexpensive quantity?” Corlette mentioned.

A woman stands next to a window and looks at the camera.
“How can one thing be so costly?” puzzled Ahmed after receiving a invoice for practically $2,400 for normal prenatal blood exams. (Nitashia Johnson for KFF Well being Information)

The Decision: Ahmed refused to pay the payments and Texas Well being despatched the debt to collections. When she tried to get solutions concerning the prices, she mentioned she was bounced between the physician’s workplace and the hospital billing division. Ahmed submitted a criticism to the Texas lawyer basic’s workplace, which handed it to the Texas Well being and Human Companies Fee. She by no means heard again.

In response to Ahmed, a hospital consultant urged her bloodwork may need been coded incorrectly and agreed the costs “had been actually unusually excessive,” Ahmed mentioned, however she was instructed there was nothing the hospital may do to vary it. The hospital didn’t touch upon the explanation behind the excessive cost. And in a March 7 electronic mail, an AdventHealth worker instructed Ahmed the physician’s workplace had “no management” over the hospital’s billing.

Ahmed filed an attraction with Anthem, however it was denied. The insurance coverage firm said the claims had been processed appropriately beneath her advantages, which cowl 80% of what the insurer agrees to pay for in-network lab companies after she meets her deductible. Ahmed has a $1,400 deductible and a $4,600 out-of-pocket most for in-network suppliers.

“We rely on well being care suppliers to submit correct billing info relating to what medical care was wanted and delivered,” Snooks mentioned. Requested about reimbursements to the Texas Well being lab, she added, “The declare was reimbursed primarily based on the laboratory’s contract with the well being plan.”

After a KFF Well being Information reporter contacted Texas Well being on Oct. 9, the hospital known as Ahmed on Oct. 10 and mentioned it might zero out her payments and take away the costs from collections. Ahmed was relieved, “like a large burden’s simply been lifted off my shoulders.”

“It’s simply been preventing this for 10 months now, and it’s lastly gone,” she mentioned.

Texas Well being Sources and AdventHealth declined to reply to detailed questions on Ahmed’s fees and the exams she was directed to acquire.

“We’re sorry Ms. Ahmed didn’t get readability on her care with us. Our high precedence is to supply our sufferers with secure, efficient and medically applicable care,” Laura Shea, a spokesperson for the hospital, mentioned in an emailed assertion.

The Takeaway: Ahmed’s downside demonstrates the pitfalls of utilizing a hospital lab for routine testing.

For normal bloodwork “it’s actually laborious to argue that there’s a high quality distinction” between impartial labs and hospitals that will warrant larger costs, Chang mentioned. That holds true for different companies, too, like imaging. “There’s nothing particular concerning the machines that hospitals use for a CT or MRI scan. It’s the identical machine.”

Broadly, state and federal lawmakers are taking note of this situation. Congress is contemplating laws that will equalize funds for sure companies no matter whether or not they’re supplied in a hospital outpatient division or a physician’s workplace, though not lab companies. Hospitals have tried to fend off such a coverage, referred to as “site-neutral funds.”

For instance, the Decrease Prices, Extra Transparency Act would require the identical costs beneath Medicare for physician-administered medication no matter whether or not they’re given in a physician’s workplace or an off-campus hospital outpatient division. That invoice additionally would require labs to make public the costs they cost Medicare for exams. One other invoice, the Bipartisan Major Care and Well being Workforce Act, would ban hospitals from charging industrial well being plans some facility charges — which they use to cowl working or administrative bills.

In response to the Nationwide Convention of State Legislatures, Colorado, Connecticut, Ohio, New York, and Texas have restricted suppliers’ means to cost privately insured sufferers facility charges for sure companies. Colorado, Connecticut, Maryland, and New York require well being services to reveal facility charges to sufferers earlier than offering care; Florida instituted related necessities for free-standing emergency departments.

Sufferers ought to preserve copies of itemized payments and insurance coverage statements. Whereas not the one proof, these paperwork might help sufferers keep away from out-of-pocket prices for really helpful preventive screenings.

For now, sufferers can proactively keep away from such excessive payments: When your physician says you want blood exams, ask that the requisition be despatched to a industrial lab like Labcorp or Quest Diagnostics that’s in your community and have the exams accomplished there. If they’ll’t do it electronically, ask for a paper requisition.

“Don’t all the time simply go to the lab that your physician recommends to you,” Corlette mentioned.

Stephanie O’Neill reported the audio story.

Invoice of the Month is a crowdsourced investigation by KFF Well being Information and NPR that dissects and explains medical payments. Do you have got an attention-grabbing medical invoice you wish to share with us? Inform us about it!


Leave a Comment