“I don’t think it’s anything serious,” your doctor says as you hold your breath, “but let’s have some bloodwork done just to be safe.”
Alright, good; it doesn’t sound serious. You let out a sigh of relief. Out front, the friendly office receptionist even offers to set up an appointment at a nearby lab.
WAIT. Before you take that convenient option, you should know that you do have options. And some of them, like going to a hospital’s lab for routine blood work, will cost you more than others.
But how would you find out such a thing when medical pricing is notoriously hard to pin down? Enter the Highmark Care Cost Estimator (or CCE), a tool to help Highmark members compare costs of in-network services before making an appointment for a test, scan or procedure. Just like when you’re shopping for a car or a household appliance, comparison shopping is your friend. Shopping around for a medical service can save you a good bit of money, and can help make sure you don’t end up with a surprising bill after receiving care.
Since CCE is available on mobile devices, you could even access it right there in the doctor’s office. Let’s take a look at how it works.
Log in to your member website. Easy enough. If you haven’t registered to use the member website yet, take a look at the back of your member ID card and visit the website listed. Go through a quick registration process and you’ll be in.
After logging in, find the Care Cost Estimator link, located in the Health Care Tools section below your member information. Click on that.
Now that you’ve made it to the CCE, you’ll see a field where you can answer the question, “What medical service are you looking for?” Though CCE has more than 1,600 procedures to choose from, in your case, your doctor has called for blood work — specifically, a “complete blood count with differential and platelets.”
That detail is important. The CCE, like any lab, doesn’t recognize “routine blood work” as an option. Most doctors will write the name of a specific test or tests they want you to have on a referral slip, but if your doctor doesn’t do that, make sure you ask them to. That way you’ll know exactly what service you’re shopping for, and you’ll ensure that you’re only getting and paying for the necessary service.
So, you’ve typed “complete blood count” into the search box and you’ve clicked Complete Blood Count with Differential and Platelets, just like the doctor ordered. Before you move on, be sure to select the person on your plan who needs care from the drop-down menu (in this case, you), and enter a location range and zip code. Then click Show Estimates.
Wow, look at that! You (likely) have a number of in-network provider/lab options to choose from, which are based on your specific health plan network.
From this screen, you can sort by cost or distance, expand a given result to learn more about the facility and your total estimated cost, and compare up to three results at a time, side-by-side. You also have the option to refine your search criteria with the menu on the left-hand side of the screen.
In this example, you’ll probably notice that getting blood work done at a hospital is more expensive than at a lab. That’s generally the case. When I ran this test, the least expensive options were in the $10 – $12 range, while the most expensive options were in the $25 – $27 range.
While a savings of $10 or $15 may or may not inspire you to shop around or drive a bit farther for your lab work, other medical services you may need vary far more in price. Keep Care Cost Estimator in mind when you need imaging tests, procedures and other types of care.
A quick search of the tool on “chest X-ray,” for instance, brings results from $28 to $103. Having my tonsils removed, CCE tells me, could cost anywhere between $599 and $1,313, depending on where I choose to have that service done. That’s a savings of more than $750, and certainly justifies the time spent doing a little bit of research.
Being the smart shopper that you are, you opt for one of the less expensive labs. There’s a lab close to your house, and CCE estimates you’ll pay around $12. Using the contact information found on CCE, you make your appointment with the lab, and within a few weeks, they send the results to your primary care physician.
Good news! Your doctor was right; the tests were just a precaution and it turns out you have a clean bill of health. On top of that, you’re feeling good because you saved a few bucks in the process by spending a little time upfront to research your options. Way to go, you!
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