Thursday, December 17, 2009

Uninsured gain cheaper blood tests

For uninsured patients, lab tests don't need to bleed them of all their money.

The Summit County Medical Society recently struck a deal with a Web-based lab ordering site to provide low-cost blood tests for patients without health insurance.

To access the discount program, patients anywhere may visit the medical society's Web site,, and select ''Uninsured patients click here.''

Patients then are linked to the discount lab fee program, which is run by Prepaid Lab LLC, based in Avon Lake.

Users enter the labs ordered by their physician and pay by credit card to get a form for the tests, which can be drawn at LabCorp locations.

The results are e-mailed to the patient and faxed to the doctor.

''There are a lot of uninsured out there, and I think a lot of them aren't going to the doctor's office just because of the perception that they can't afford it,'' said Dr. Doug Lefton, a primary-care physician in Fairlawn. ''We're trying to have some options for them.''

Lefton has been leading the medical society's campaign to get labs to accept lower payments from uninsured patients.

By law, labs and other medical providers must charge everyone the same rate for services. Most bills then are steeply discounted for patients covered by government and private health-insurance plans.

The billed or ''sticker price'' for a lipid profile test for cholesterol ranges from $40.80 to $147.75 at labs and hospitals in the Akron area, according to a survey earlier this year.

The same test is available for $17.77 through the Summit County Medical Society Web site.

Participants also pay a $9.50 service fee each time tests are ordered.

The Summit County Medical Society doesn't receive any of the money, Lefton said.

''You're not going to find a lower rate than this,'' he said.

Randy Simon, 62, of Massillon was among the first patients to order lab tests through Prepaid.

Simon lost his job about 11/2 years ago during a downsizing and now works two part-time jobs, neither of which offer health insurance.

When his doctor recently told him he needed blood tests that he figured would cost him several hundred dollars, he resisted.

''I said to him: 'I can't do it. I understand I need this blood work done, but the fact remains, I can't afford it,' '' he recalled.

His physician, a partner of Lefton's, recommended he try ordering the tests through the medical society's Web site.

The cost: $64.

''I said, 'You've got to be kidding me,' '' he said. ''It's definitely a great thing. It's a great idea. I can't believe it was that simple, that easy.''

Prepaid is able to get lower rates for tests because the program eliminates billing, collection and bad-debt costs for labs, said Tom Patton, chief executive of Prepaid Lab.

''They're selling us a product without all the overhead,'' he said. ''It's guaranteed money.''

Everyone benefits, he said.

''If people know that there's a place that they can get their labs at a low enough cost that they can take care of it, they get the treatment they need,'' Patton said.

The Prepaid program is the second discount option the Summit County Medical Society has secured this year for uninsured patients.

In July, Pioneer Physicians Network Inc. agreed to provide commonly ordered blood tests to uninsured patients at its offices in Tallmadge, Norton, Uniontown and Green.

Lefton said he also is continuing to negotiate lower-cost blood tests and radiology services for uninsured patients at Akron's hospitals.

''The list prices are just incredibly expensive,'' he said.

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