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Urine Test Ends Up Costing $17,850 After Student's Back Surgery

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As healthcare costs keep ballooning, what used to seem like routine procedures are now presented with a high cost.

A Texas resident had to get surgery for severe back pain. After the surgery, the surgical office asked her for a urine sample, which ended with a $17,850 bill for testing the urine.

Disk Removed

Elizabeth Moreno, a college student, suffered from a disk that was blocking nerves down to her legs. This caused her too much back pain, which required immediate surgery. Moreno had the back surgery in late 2015 and it was a complete success.

Problems began when at a January 2016 follow-up visit to the surgical office, she was asked to provide a urine sample. She had been prescribed hydrocodone for the pain.

Doctors who conduct drug tests after prescribing painkillers do so to curb drug abuse. These tests are done for a short time after the operation.

An Expensive Drug Test

In March 2017 the bill arrived for the urine test -- in the amount of $17,850. The urine had been reportedly tested for a number of different drugs, including cocaine, PCP, marijuana, amphetamines, methadone, anti-anxiety drugs, and drugs that she hadn't heard of. Her surgeon would not answer why she had been tested for so many substances.

Urine tests do not usually exceed the cost of $200. Bills go up when the sample is sent to be tested at a lab, which is usually done to determine the quantity of each drug. Moreno's bill shows that Sunset Labs LLC in Houston had charged for testing each drug, including a $850 charge to determine whether or not her urine sample had been tampered with.

Moreno is covered by Blue Cross and Blue Shield of Texas. It declined to cover the cost of the urine test since the lab was out of network. It says that had it covered the test, the bill would've been only $100.92.

Sunset Labs said that its prices were similar to competitors, and that it usually didn't question the doctor about the tests that were ordered.

Moreno's father, Dr. Paul Davis, settled the bill for $5,000 for fears that it would ruin Moreno's credit. Davis also filed a complaint to the Texas attorney general's office for price gouging.

Unnecessary Medical Tests

Unnecessary tests are routinely carried out on patients and end up at an estimated cost of $282 million. Before agreeing to take any further medical tests -- blood or urine -- patients should ask what the tests are for. if they agree to the tests, they must be adamant that they want the tests to be sent to a lab that is in their insurance network. Tests sent to labs outside of the network will incur high costs such as this urine test. 

This is routine in the U.S. healthcare system that struggles with the massive costs and the amount of unnecessary tests that patients take. Over 1.3 million patients were scoured by the Washington Health Alliance, its findings were released as a report detailing the procedures recommended to patients. It found that more than 600,000 patients received treatments that they need which came to a cost of $282 million. 

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