HSA for America

How to Save Money
on Lab Work

February 14, 2006
Vol. 2, Issue 2

One smart strategy to manage the funds in your Health Savings Account is to order your own diagnostic lab work.  By ordering your own lab tests directly from the lab, you can dramatically lower your costs, keep your medical records private, and proactively manage your own health care.

Manage Your Health

We all have responsibility for our own health.  We cannot count on our doctors, our insurance companies, or our government to keep us well.  The more people understand that, the better off we all are.

I believe it's best to be pro-active when it comes to one's health.  By regularly monitoring cholesterol and other risk factors and tracking changes over time, you may be able to take action before more serious problems arise.  You can also order tests that are not yet considered "standard" tests, such as C-reactive protein or homocysteine concentrations, both thought to be indicators of risk for cardiovascular disease.

The growth of the consumer-driven healthcare movement has now enabled the consumer to order lab tests directly, bypassing any middleman.  There are several lab testing companies that market directly to the public.  They likely use the exact same local labs that your doctor would use, but the costs are almost always lower, and often by a good bit.  In most cases you can go to the lab without an appointment, have your blood drawn, and be out in no time.

My Experience

I recently ordered a Comprehensive Metabolic Panel (CMP), which is a standard group of tests that provide information about the current status of your kidney and liver function, infection and nutrition, risk of diabetes and risk of heart disease.  It includes measurements of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, triglycerides, liver enzymes, blood glucose, and many other factors.

By the way, a good estimate of insulin sensitivity can be derived from the triglyceride/HDL ratio.  The less insulin sensitive you are, the greater your risk for cardiovascular disease, many cancers (including breast and prostate cancer), and even Alzheimer's disease.  Ideally you want your ratio to be below 1, but you're doing pretty well if it's below 2.  If it's more than that, cutting out the sugars and grains, doing more intense exercise, and taking fish oil will produce dramatic improvement.  (I'm happy to say that my HDL is now up to 71, my triglycerides measured at 48, giving me a ratio of .67.)

You can order the tests online, go have your blood drawn without making an appointment, and get your results online within 48 hours. This test, which may have cost over $250 if done at a hospital or doctor's office, cost me only $45.

VAP Cholesterol Test

Half of all heart attacks occur in people with "normal" cholesterol.  A test I plan on having done later this year is a VAP™ cholesterol test.  This is a much more comprehensive cholesterol analysis than you're likely to get from your doctor.  In addition to providing measurement of total cholesterol, LDL, HDL, VLDL, and triglycerides, this test also includes an assessment of LDL particle size.  More recent research indicates that it is not just LDL cholesterol that is the "bad" cholesterol, but specifically small dense LDL cholesterol that causes cardiovascular disease.  MyMedLab offers this test for $95.

Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Profile

Another interesting test you could have done is called an Omega-3 Essential Fatty Acid Profile.  In last month's issue of Maximize Your HSA, I discussed the importance of omega-3 fatty acids.

There are several large studies that clearly show a correlation between low omega-3 intake and cardiovascular disease.  Omega-3 concentrations are even an independent predictor of increased risk for sudden cardiac death.  Clinical work has shown that reaching certain levels greatly reduces the risk of developing heart disease by 32%, reduces death from a heart attack by 70% and manages silent inflammation, a precursor for many illnesses and diseases.

Your omega-3 intake can be quantified by measuring the concentration and type of omega-3 in your red blood cells.  This test may just prove to you what you already know.  If you're taking fish oil supplements, they will show up in the test results, and your level of chronic inflammation will definitely be lower.  Just remember, it is your body, and you have the right to know anything you want to know about it, without a gatekeeper deciding if you should have that information.

A couple sources for this type of test are Nutrasource Diagnostics Inc. and Omegametrix.  Expect to pay about $125, in pre-tax dollars from your HSA.

Lower your costs

HSA for America has contracted with Direct Labs to make their lowest pricing available to our readers. After joining (there is no cost to do so), you may order lab tests, x-rays, and even CT scans or MRIs. You can get a feel for prices here, though you will need to call the company to confirm the price before ordering.

Like with most healthcare expenditures, the patient typically does little-to-no price shopping before ordering lab work.  There is also often a markup by the doctor on tests he or she may order.  So prices are way higher than they should be.  Instead of participating in this messed-up system, many HSA owners are opting out by ordering their own tests.

It is not uncommon to save 70% or more on the cost of your tests.  You can even use these testing services when your own doctor is ordering tests.  Just explain that you are paying for the tests from your HSA, and as an involved consumer you wish to minimize your out-of-pocket expenses.  If your doctor has a problem with this, you may want to hire a new doctor.

You're in charge

To the great dismay of lovers of bureaucracy, central management, rationing, and other misguided attempts to manage healthcare from the top-down, it appears the HSA train has left the station.  Only two years after they became available there are over 1.1 million HSA accounts covering nearly 2 ½ million people.  There is already an estimated $1,500,000,000 (yes, that's one billion, five hundred million dollars) in HSA accounts.

That's a lot of people controlling their own healthcare expenses, and the market will respond.  One thing you can do to help is be a smart consumer.  As more people start shopping their healthcare, the market will respond with lower prices, more convenience, higher quality, and greater transparency in price.  These are things that will help everyone, whether they have an HSA or not.

If you do not already have an HSA, you may get instant quotes and information on available plans on our website. If you would like assistance in choosing the best plan, please call 800-913-0172 to set up a telephone appointment.


To your health and wealth! 

President - HSA for America

P.S.  Please continue to give me feedback about this newsletter.  Next month I'll let you know about a service that will negotiate your medical bills for you.

HSA for America
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