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The Price of Lab Tests Around the World

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I hope everyone had as enjoyable a Thanksgiving as I did -- as you might have sensed from my little hiatus from blogging. Well, I'm back and I'm breaking from my Monday, Wednesday, Friday schedule to get the price series wrapped up this week. I continue today with lab tests and Friday will end things with prescription drugs. My apologies for the small charts, but it's too late for me to do anything about them at this point. Hopefully you'll get the gist.

  • Imaging: More expensive in the U.S.
  • Physicians' fees: More expensive in the U.S.
  • Hospital fees: More expensive in the U.S.

Laboratory tests? Oh, come on. You know what these charts are going to look like before you even see them, don't you? Fair enough. Here they are to confirm what you already knew. First, the Pap Smear, and then the throat culture:

Aha! Not so fast! Sure, the high end U.S. prices still blow everyone out of the water for the Pap smear, and beat all but Australia for the throat culture, but take a look at the low-end U.S. average for both tests. The U.S. prices actually look reasonable by comparison -- a handful of countries actually pay more for these tests. How can that be?! What makes these lab tests different from all of the other aspects of health care that we have seen thus far? Is it that they are just too common, too basic a technology to get away with charging exorbitant amounts under the guise of "medical technology?" These are older tests to be sure, but there was certainly a time when they were anything but routine. Does that mean we'll eventually see the price of MRIs go down, too? I'm not sure what explains this phenomenon, but I am intrigued. If you've got the answer -- or think you do -- let's hear it.

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