Woman Charged $17,850 For Urine Test Following Opioid Treatment

By Kelly Burch 02/21/18

A lab charged the woman nearly $18,000 for an out-of-network urine test that her insurer valued at $100.92.

male scientist analyzing urine samples in laboratory

When Elizabeth Moreno’s doctor ordered a urine test following a back surgery and treatment with opioids, Moreno thought nothing of it. She did the test and—knowing she was clean—did not give it a second thought until she received a bill for $17,850. 

“I was totally confused. I didn't know how I was going to pay this," Moreno told CNN. 

As awareness about the addictive nature of opioids has become more widespread, urine testing has become more common for patients who have finished an opioid prescription. Although the testing, on its surface, is meant to ensure that a patient is not abusing opioids, many people say that urine testing has become a way for labs and doctors to make millions of dollars

James Quiggle, communications director of the Coalition Against Insurance Fraud, whose members include insurers, consumer groups and government agencies, told CNN that ”puffed-up bills straddle a fine line between abuse and outright fraud.”

Patients are often scared and intimidated when they receive the shocking bills. "Surprise bills larded with unexpected expenses and little explanation inflict sticker shock on vulnerable patients," Quiggle said.

In Moreno’s case, insurance did not cover the bill because the lab was out of network. However, they did send her an explanation of benefits saying that they valued the test at $100.92. 

The lab, however, has a different opinion. Sunset Labs LLC charged Moreno $4,675 to check her urine for different types of opioids; $2,975 for benzodiazepines; and $1,700 for amphetamines. It charged $1,275 more to test for illicit drugs including marijuana and cocaine.

In addition, Moreno was charged $850 to test for buprenorphine, and an $850 fee for two tests to verify that nobody had tampered with her urine specimen. With fees and other charges, the bill came to nearly $18,000. 

"This just blows my mind," said Jennifer Bolen, a former federal prosecutor and lab and pain management consultant. "It's very high and incredibly out of the norm.”

Charles Root, an industry advisor, speculated that perhaps the lab had misplaced a decimal point, since he would expect a urine test like Moreno’s to cost a few hundred dollars at maximum. "Sounds real fishy,” he said. 

The lab, however, stood by the charge, saying it was "in line with the charges of competing out-of-network labs in the geographical area.”

Moreno’s father helped her settle the bill for $5,000 to avoid it impacting her credit. However, they hope that by sharing their story they will make other people aware of what they believe are predatory practices by labs. 

"Young people just starting out, such as my daughter, may not have the ability to pay and this could result in damaged credit ratings or even bankruptcy,” Moreno’s father wrote in a complaint to the Texas Attorney General’s Office. 

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Kelly Burch writes about addiction and mental health issues, particularly as they affect families. Follow her on TwitterFacebook, and LinkedIn.