For reasons that probably won’t interest the reader, I want to order a blood test that measures the basic cholesterol readings. My difficulties in ordering a test illustrate a major problem with our third-party health payment system: it largely shuts the patient out of the process.
First I called a lab that does not offer the blood test but that helpfully told me that the two main testing facilities in the state are Qwest (of which I was already aware) and Lab Corp.
So I started with Lab Corp. The first fellow I talked to was helpful, but he couldn’t answer questions about specific facilities, so he sent me on to a general customer service number. There I got the number to the Broomfield facility.
The Broomfield office was basically helpful, except on two counts. First, for reasons that nobody could explain, Lab Corp requires a doctor’s order to conduct any test. You can’t just go in, as though you were an adult in charge of your own health, and order up the test of your choice. No, no, no. You’ve got to ask for permission to get tested. (I imagine this has a lot to do with liability nonsense.)
Second, the woman on the phone said she didn’t know how much the blood test costs, nor would she figure it out for me. Moreover, she didn’t have time for me to give her any “problems” over the matter. She was unfazed when I pointed out that every other business in the state can tell me what their services cost. (True, auto mechanics sometimes don’t know the final tally until they discover the nature of the damage, but a blood test is the same every time, so you’d think they’d have a clear idea of the cost.)
So then I tried Qwest, which also requires a doctor’s order. At least Qwest could tell me the price: $58 plus a $15 draw fee. The woman at Qwest did helpfully point out that “Any Lab Test” might be able to fill in for the physician on the ordering end.
It turns out that neither Lab Corp nor Qwest actually requires a doctor’s order, as they claim on the phone, if you use a run-around method of ordering the test. (The first fellow I talked with at Lab Corp did mention this.)
Any Lab Test has two Colorado offices. You can go in, pay $49, and the office will draw your blood and ship it to a Qwest center in Kansas.
Or you can go to PrePaidLab.com, which contracts with the local Lab Corp. You can order a “Lipid Panel” for $16.05 (plus a processing fee of $9.50) or a “Lipid Panel With LDL:HDL Ratio” for $43.65 (plus the fee).
King Soopers will also conduct an instant, “finger prick” blood test for $20; however, my wife’s doctor lacked confidence in the “finger prick” test. I called Lab Corp back, and a representative confirmed that both of their lipid tests involve a full blood draw. The rep. said that both tests are equally accurate, though one provides more information.
Imagine how much better life would be if politicians hadn’t pushed us into a third-party payment system for health care. (Obviously, I favor third-party payments when they involve real insurance, but not when they involve routine care.) Health providers would actually tell us what they plan to charge us for their services. Doctors and clinics would be more responsive to patients.
While politicians have seriously damaged the market in health care, enough freedom is left that proactive consumers can still shop around and find services that largely fit their needs. We should expand that freedom, not further diminish it.
[September 8 Update: My wife used Lab Corp through PrePaidLab.com, and she got good, fast service. September 9 Update: Lab Corp had the results back the next day! That beats the pants off of Qwest, in our experience.]