Affordable Options for Lab Tests and Medical Imaging


Diagnostic imaging and clinical laboratory fees can be exorbitant when delivered by insurance-based or hospital-affiliated providers.

Your health care provider may make a recommendation for a provider, but where you schedule your appointment is entirely up to you. There are some national private pay providers for lab services, but imaging centers that use this payment method tend to be specific to a city or region.

During my late husband’s long illness, I was never offered an option other than the hospital systems’ imaging center and lab that his doctor favored. Finally, I did a web search when I couldn’t afford $980 for a chest CT Scan at the hospital and found a great private pay center close to my home. I was charged $150 for the scan, which used state-of-the-art minimal radiation equipment. This price included a review of thes resuts by a board certified radiologist. The review alone probably would have cost an additional $350 through the hospital center. I paid around 83 percent less with no loss in quality and was able to get my late husband the scan he needed.

A quick web search should point you to providers in your area. I used the search term “affordable private pay medical imaging (or clinical lab) options” with good results. Variations on that theme also worked well. In addition to cheaper prices overall, some of these providers may also offer financing options.

Laboratory Tests and Services

Typically, pricing is based on a large-volume at the national level and kept low by not accepting any form of insurance. For patients with a high co-pay, you may be able to submit the bill to your insurer for reimbursement.

Depending on the lab, your order is placed online or by phone, and you will be expected to pay up front. The patient will be directed to a local lab where the specimen will be collected and tested. Most results are available with 24 to 36 hours. However, some tests can take between one and two weeks. Results will be sent to the patient and/or the designated healthcare provider.

Providers such as DirectLabs, Request A Test, and Accu Reference have locations either nationwide or in multiple states. It is likely that there are additional options near you that operate on a local or regional scale as well. Patients can opt to use this payment method for blood testing, urinalysis (urine testing), sputum cultures (to diagnosis illnesses like pneumonia), and many other kinds of tests of tissues and bodily fluids that can help detect causes of illness.

Diagnostic Imaging Centers

Imaging centers also keep prices low by not accepting any form of insurance. Many labs do not require a doctor’s order or referral, but this is not the case for imaging. The imaging center you select will provide you with a fax number your physician can use to send their order for services like MRIs, X-rays, PET Scans, ultrasounds and ECGs (EKGs). Be sure to check that their services are accredited by the American College of Radiology (ACR).

One national organization called We Care Medical Mall refers patients to the cheapest imaging center nearby for a relatively small fee.

Sandy Morris was married for 32 years and was her disabled husband's caregiver for the last 15 years of their marriage. Working in the senior services sector for the last three years, her experiences on both sides of the caregiver equation allow her to provide valuable information on everything from VA benefits to common caregiver challenges.

War Veterans Association of Colorado

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Another option to save money on lab tests and diagnostic imagining is the following. Ask your doctor before having the test done what the treatment would be if something abnormal is found. If you have determined that you won't do the treatment don't do the test or the exam. For example: If you have already determined that you will not take any cholesterol lowering medications don't have the lab test done. If you have already determined that you will not have the biopsy and other treatments indicated for a positive mammogram don't have a mammogram done.
Today there is so much information available to the general public that we are able to make educated decisions on our own healthcare. Many tests are routinely prescribed and not ordered on an emergency basis so we have time to do our research and to educate ourselves. It is not a crime to refuse a lab test or diagnostic exam and one shouldn't feel or be made to feel guilty for making an educated decision to do so.
I too have found that one can find MUCH lower costs for tests when paying out of pocket. In fact, your doctor may have a financial relationship with the lab s/he recommends. I found it so with my doctor's practice - it was right across the parking lot, and the HIGHEST cost for these tests in a 20-mile area!!!

Regarding Nojpy3's comment (which I also second), EVERYONE should check the following website and print a copy of the tests, and take these with you to your doctor's visit EVERY time you go!

From their website:
The Choosing Wisely lists were created by national medical specialty societies and represent specific, evidence-based recommendations clinicians and patients should discuss. Each list provides information on when tests and procedures may be appropriate, as well as the methodology used in its creation.

In collaboration with the partner organizations, Consumer Reports has created resources for consumers and providers to engage in these important conversations about the overuse of medical tests and procedures that provide little benefit and in some cases harm.

Choosing Wisely recommendations should not be used to establish coverage decisions or exclusions. Rather, they are meant to spur conversation about what is appropriate and necessary treatment. As each patient situation is unique, providers and patients should use the recommendations as guidelines to determine an appropriate treatment plan together.

You will find that MANY doctors prescribe tests (knowlingly or unknowlingly) that are NOT appropriate or necessary, but that make someone $$$$$ while costing you $$$ and raising the costs of healthcare for all.