A liver biopsy can be a costly procedure that may be necessary to help diagnose certain liver conditions. Several factors can affect the cost of a liver biopsy, including the type of biopsy and the person’s insurance plan.

However, most plans consider it a necessary medical procedure and should provide at least some coverage.

This article looks at the cost of a liver biopsy, including the types, procedures, alternatives, and more.

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A liver biopsy involves a doctor removing a small piece of the liver for examination.

They may use the procedure to:

  • check for liver disease or damage
  • confirm liver disease treatment is working
  • determine the severity of liver disease
  • help figure out the best treatment options
  • check for cancer or other abnormalities in the liver

In most cases, health insurance considers a liver biopsy a medically necessary procedure. As a result, providers should cover all or most of the costs relating to the procedure.

Sometimes, a person may need to cover the costs if they have not met their deductible. Some plans may require only a copay and cover the remainder of the cost.

A person should speak with their insurance provider before the procedure to determine how much a liver biopsy will cost them out of pocket.

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Costs for a liver biopsy vary greatly. According to a 2018 review of claims databases, the average cost of a liver biopsy ranged from $1,500 to $300,022.

A person should speak with their insurance provider before the procedure to see how much they will cover for the test.

People on Medicare or Medicare-approved plans have coverage for biopsies. A person will need to cover part of the cost associated with a liver biopsy.

According to Medicare’s website, the average cost that people will pay out of pocket is $135 at surgical centers or $298 at an outpatient hospital department.

Several studies have analyzed the costs of liver biopsies.

Researchers found that these procedures are not necessarily cost-effective. Overall care costs tend to be higher when doctors perform liver biopsies.

In addition to cost, liver biopsies have several other potential limitations, which include:

  • potential complications
  • subjective results
  • a large sample variability

There are several potential alternatives to a liver biopsy. However, many of them also have limitations.

The procedure a doctor suggests will depend on a person’s suspected condition and may include:

  • Blood tests: Check for amounts of fat in the liver.
  • Transient elastography: Uses an ultrasound scan to measure the stiffness of the liver.
  • Multiparametric MRI: Uses an MRI to check for inflammation, liver fat, fibrosis, and iron.
  • Shear wave elastography: Measures stiffness in the liver.
  • Magnetic resonance elastography: Measures liver stiffness with soundwaves and visual technology that creates a map of the liver.

A doctor may recommend three types of biopsies according to a person’s needs.

The types are:

  • percutaneous liver biopsy
  • transjugular liver biopsy
  • surgical liver biopsy

Each type of liver biopsy has a different procedure. This section looks at the three different procedures for a liver biopsy.

Percutaneous liver biopsy

Below is the procedure for a typical percutaneous liver biopsy:

  1. A doctor will determine where to insert the needle by gently tapping on the abdomen or using a CT scan to determine an appropriate area.
  2. They will use a local anesthetic to numb the area before inserting the needle.
  3. They will then make a small cut in the abdomen and insert the needle.
  4. They may use a CT scan or ultrasound to guide the needle during insertion.
  5. Once they reach the liver, they may ask the person to hold their breath while they take a sample.

Transjugular liver biopsy

A transjugular liver biopsy involves inserting a long tube into the jugular vein in the neck.

  1. A doctor will use ultrasound to determine the best place to make the insertion.
  2. Once they find a suitable insertion area, they will use a local anesthetic, cut a small hole in the neck, and then insert a needle into the jugular.
  3. They will then use X-rays to guide a long, thin tube down the vein into the liver.
  4. The doctor will then run the biopsy needle down the tubing to the liver and take a tissue sample.

Surgical liver biopsy

Below is the procedure for a typical surgical liver biopsy:

  1. During a surgical procedure, the person will receive a general anesthetic.
  2. The doctor will then perform either open surgery or laparoscopic surgery. Laparoscopic surgery involves making a smaller opening and using specialized tools to access the liver. Open surgery involves making a larger opening in the abdomen to access the liver.
  3. The doctor can then take a sample of liver tissue.

Healthcare professionals may opt for this procedure if someone is already having surgery for a different reason or if other procedures are unsuitable.

A person should bring a friend or family member to the procedure to ensure they get home safely.

Recovery times can vary according to the type of biopsy a doctor performs. Individuals will generally need longer times for open surgery recovery and less time for less invasive methods.

After the procedure, a person will often need monitoring for 2 or more hours to assess their recovery. It can take at least 24 hours before they can return to their typical activities.

Individuals should follow all aftercare instructions to help aid the healing process.

Liver biopsies have some risk of associated complications. Some potential complications can include:

A person should get their liver biopsy results back within a few days or weeks.

A healthcare professional should let them know when the results have come back. They will then discuss the results and answer any questions someone may have. They may also advise additional testing or discuss treatment options.

A liver biopsy can be an expensive procedure, but it can be necessary to determine any potential problems in a person’s liver.

If cost is an issue, individuals should discuss this with a healthcare professional and an insurance provider.

A doctor may be able to suggest alternative procedures. Insurance providers can also discuss what other tests they may cover instead.

Most health insurance plans should cover the procedure. If a person has no health insurance, they should contact a healthcare professional to see if they qualify for help with costs.