Huge Variations in Blood Test Charges
Written by Editor   
Thursday, August 21, 2014 02:08 PM

One California hospital charged $10 for a blood cholesterol test, while another hospital that ran the same test charged $10,169 -- over 1,000 times more. For another common blood test,  the average hospital charge was $371, but prices ranged from a low of $35 to a high of $7,303, more than 200 times more.

"People say our healthcare system needs to be more marketplace-driven, but the charging system and payment system are irrational. When people try to understand why prices are the way they are, we have no ability to explain it. That is the take-home message. That is what is so disturbing."

Researchers said their analysis found no rational explanation for the stark variation in listed prices, though teaching hospitals and government hospitals generally set lower charges than other facilities. 

Officials with the California Hospital Association dismissed the report as irrelevant, saying that the vast majority of patients pay discounted rates that have been negotiated by their insurance plans.  "Charges are meaningless data -- virtually no one pays charges." 

Charges for a complete blood cell count and a thyroid stimulating hormone assay ranged from as low as $20 in some hospitals to as much as $7,439 and $8,392, respectively.

The smallest discrepancy in charges was for a creatine kinase assay, often used to diagnose a heart attack; the lowest listed charge was $10 but some hospitals charged as much as $628.