Keeping Laboratory Costs Low
Hi, thank you for coming back for the latest edition of Beyond Primary Cares blog; where I highlight healthy and fun recipes, healthcare news, advice for medical conditions, as well as how membership for care works! Dr. Jeff O’Boyle is the owner of Beyond Primary Care, which is a new approach to family medicine and addiction medicine that creates the time and space your healthcare deserves. Beyond Primary Care is a Direct Care clinic serving patients in Ann Arbor and throughout Washtenaw, Livingston, and Wayne County.
The primary purpose of the blog is to introduce healthy lifestyle concepts and answer common questions I receive from patients that I believe are important. I want to start discussions that will help educate, benefit, and improve your well-being.
In this post I am answering a common question that I receive, and that is how does Beyond Primary Care (DPC) keep laboratory costs low for it’s members? Offering low bill rates for labs is a key feature of virtually all Direct Primary Care (DPC) practices, and is something that is done to increase the value of a membership. Just how low? Many DPC practices do in-clinic phlebotomy and can provide numerous laboratory studies to their patients at a tenth of the costs that many hospitals and fee-for-service providers can provide.
How DPC Practices Keep Laboratory Costs Low
To start DPC practices typically do their own phlebotomy (that is the collection of blood from your veins) and rarely bill for these services. This starts the savings before a single drop of blood is collected. DPC practices then contract with laboratory diagnostic companies, many times the same companies that service smaller hospitals or fee-for-service clinics. My clinic, Beyond Primary Care, uses a few laboratory diagnostic companies, Quest Diagnostics, True Health, and Aurora Diagnostics.
Prior to drawing any labs for our patients, DPC practices negotiate what we call ‘client bill rates’ with these diagnostic companies. A client bill rates is basically saying, what is the lowest cash price for a particular laboratory study you can offer to my clinic’s patients? Compare this to smaller hospitals or fee-for-service providers. They bill for phlebotomy (U of M states they charge $9 for this service alone) and then these providers bill the labs through your insurance. Often times the laboratory costs often never negotiated down on behalf of the patient because there is no incentive from the practice to do this.
DPC gets these low laboratory fees for their members in this innovative manner because our primary business is taking care of you and NOT being just a blood-draw center. Your membership for care to a DPC practice allows for this innovation.
Savings from Laboratory Costs
I have a colleague who recently had a pap smear completed, which is a diagnostic test used in females to detect cervical cancer. She claimed she had ‘Cadillac Health Insurance’ through her employer, meaning basically she thought she had really great insurance that would cover the costs of her healthcare. Look at her bill below and what she was left to pay out of pocket. At my clinic, Beyond Primary Care, the procedure of completing the pap smear if part of the membership. No extra charges. The fee for the pathologist (that I have negotiated) is $44. The difference in costs in this ONE laboratory study alone would pay for months of healthcare at any DPC clinic.
DPC Members can obtain Labs other Doctors Order
DPC providers understand you may need to see another specialist from time to time, and these providers may want their own labs completed. A common question I receive is if the other specialist request labs, can I get them done through your clinic?
Yes, absolutely this is another great way to minimize your financial impact. No doctor or hospital can force any patient to have routine laboratory studies done only at their location or where they tell a patient to complete them at. That is against the law. They may use convincing language saying ‘the results integrate into our electronic system faster,’ or ‘those other providers may not know exactly what I want.’ Stay firm and request a written and signed order for your labs. Your DPC clinic will complete the exact same labs, bill you at the much lower rates (compared had you used your insurance), and will promptly fax the results over to the requesting specialists that meet their needs. As noted by this Wall Street Journal article analysis of medical services, prices tend to be higher when services are performed in hospital outpatient facilitates instead of at doctors’ offices.