If you want to get a blood test in California, it could cost you anywhere from $10 to $10,000 for the exact same test. WaPo reports that researchers at the University of California–San Francisco studied the prices that more than a hundred California hospitals charged for blood tests in 2011. The results were surprising:
The median charge for a basic metabolic panel, which measures sodium, potassium and glucose levels, among other indicators, was $214. But hospitals charged from $35 to $7,303, depending on the facility. None of the hospitals were identified.The biggest range involved charges for a lipid panel, a test that measures cholesterol and triglycerides, a type of fat (lipid), in the blood. The median charge was $220, but costs ranged from a minimum of $10 to a maximum of $10,169. Yes, more than $10,000 for a blood test that doctors typically order for older adults, to check their cholesterol levels.
A blood test is one of the most basic medical procedures, standardized across all providers. What accounts for the differences? The short answer is: nobody knows. The only correlation with price the researchers found was that “county hospitals and teaching hospitals had lower prices than non-teaching hospitals, not-for-profit and for-profit hospitals.” But they didn’t think this was anywhere near a complete account of how such wide variations could become possible. After years of debate over Obamacare, we’re still not much closer to understanding our system, much less knowing how to reform it.