A student of Texas State University in San Marcos was recently charged $17,850 for a urinalysis after receiving back surgery, according to dallasnews.com. You can see the PDF of the outrageous bill here.

Elizabeth Moreno needed the back surgery, which required the removal of a disc, for a debilitating spinal abnormality that left her in too much pain to even dress herself. As someone who has sciatica, I have put my back out on multiple occasions, which has left me unable to move. The pain is extreme.

After her surgery, Moreno was prescribed hydrocodone, a very common painkiller. If you've had any dental work you've likely been prescribed it, too. Her doctor ordered the urinalysis to make sure Moreno wasn't abusing any other drugs. And that's part of the reason the bill was so astronomical.

The urinalysis tested for entirely too many things -- everything from PCP to meth and even two tests to make sure she hadn't used fake pee. Why a doctor would order a test that extensive is beyond me; Moreno is a patient, not a felon. While I do understand that opioid addiction is a serious issue that kills thousands every year, a test this extensive seems wholly unnecessary for a woman with real -- and documented -- chronic pain.

The second reason the bill was so outrageous was that the drug testing facility grossly overcharged. Dallas News contacted experts with Kaiser Health News for their opinion:

The experts said that the lab's prices for individual tests were excessive, such as charging $1,700 to check for amphetamines or $425 to identify phencyclidine, an illegal hallucinogenic drug also known as PCP. They also criticized a charge of $850 for two tests to verify that her urine sample had not been adulterated or tampered with.

[...]the tests have become a cash cow for a burgeoning testing industry, and critics charge that unneeded and often expensive ones are sometimes ordered for profit rather than patient care.

So how can you avoid getting slapped with a monster bill like this? Ask your doctor WHY they are drug testing you and how much it will cost. Insist that it be sent to a lab in your insurance network, or remind your doctor that a simple cup test should suffice. They run about $10.

As a patient you have rights, and the more of us that exercise those rights, the less of us will get $17,000+ bills for lab tests we didn't ask for or need.


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