Consumer Confidential: An 800% markup for blood work? It's time to standardize medical test prices

David Lazarus, Los Angeles Times on

Published in Business News

Universal, affordable coverage through a "Medicare for all" program remains a distant prospect for the U.S. healthcare system. But that doesn't mean we can't address some of the crazier aspects of medical pricing.

One place to start: diagnostic tests.

Cheryl Becker Leff, 59, related her experience involving breast cancer and recent tests performed at Cedars-Sinai.

"I am obsessive about making sure our providers and hospitals are in network," the Sherman Oaks resident told me. "As long as you're in network, shouldn't the prices be pretty much the same?"

The answer, as millions of Americans have painfully learned seeking treatment from various medical providers, is that prices can be all over the map, regardless of your network status.

What happened to Leff highlights how loony this can be.


Her Cedars-affiliated oncologist drew her blood last summer at an office near the hospital. Those tests totaled $319 in cost. After Leff's insurer, Blue Shield, picked up most of the tab, her out-of-pocket cost was about $46.

In March, Leff went in for more tests. This time, her blood was drawn inside Cedars' Samuel Oschin Cancer Center.

The four tests performed cost more than $3,600 and her out-of-pocket expense was $500, which Leff has to pay in full because she has yet to meet her 2021 deductible of nearly $2,000.

She said she contacted Blue Shield for more information about the huge disparity in pricing. It turned out that three of the tests performed in March were also performed last summer.


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