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The $2,315 Coronavirus Test

Michael Rainey

In April, an otherwise ordinary medical test facility outside of Dallas, Texas, was charging unusually high prices for coronavirus tests, with some patients receiving bills of $2,315 for a single procedure. Many major labs charge about $100 for the same analysis.

While the lab has since said that the pricing — which was applied to more than 100 tests, with 23 of those being paid in full — was the result of “human error” and dropped its standard fee to a still-high $500, Sarah Kliff of The New York Times says that such shockingly high charges are not unusual in the U.S. due to one simple factor: the lack of government regulation in health care pricing.

That lack of regulation produces two outcomes that crop up again and again in the health care system, Kliff says. The first is that prices tend to be much higher for all kinds of procedures in the U.S. than in other wealthy countries. The second is that there is massive variation in prices between providers. (Kliff cites one study that found prices in California for a basic appendectomy ranging from $1,529 to $182,955.)

Currently, the data show considerable variation in prices for coronavirus tests — though it’s hard to be sure how much is actually being paid, since much of the payment information is private. What is clear is that all of the tests are basically the same, even though some individuals and insurers are paying much more than others. “There is little evidence that higher prices correlate with better care,” Kliff says. “What’s different about the more expensive providers is that they’ve set higher prices for their services.”

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