• Forecast
  • News Tip
  • Categories
Temperature Precipitation
Estimated read time
2m 47s

Medicare wasted at least $1.9 billion a year on unnecessary treatments, study finds

By Robert Preidt / Healthday 4:00 PM May 13, 2014

Medicare spent at least $1.9 billion in 2009 on 26 types of tests and procedures that offer patients few or no health benefits, a new study says.

At least one in four Medicare patients received at least one of these services in 2009, according to the analysis of claims made by more than 1.3 million Medicare patients that year, according to Harvard Medical School researchers.

The 26 procedures examined in the study are among hundreds of health care services known to provide little or no medical gain to patients in many cases, the researchers noted.

“We suspect this is just the tip of the iceberg,” study author J. Michael McWilliams, associate professor of health care policy, said in a Harvard news release.

“We were surprised that these wasteful services were so prevalent,” lead author Aaron Schwartz, an M.D./Ph.D. student in the department of health care policy, said in the news release. “Even just looking at a fraction of wasteful services and using our narrowest definitions of waste, we found that one quarter of Medicare beneficiaries undergo procedures or tests that don’t tend to help them get better.”

Under the narrower definition, 25 percent of beneficiaries received at least one of the 26 wasteful services, resulting in $1.9 billion. Under the wider definition, 42 percent of beneficiaries received at least one of the 26 wasteful services at a cost of $8.4 billion.

The study was published May 12 in the journal JAMA Internal Medicine.

“One of the things we learned from this study is that measuring waste is hard,” Schwartz said. “How much waste you find varies greatly depending on how you define it. Removed from the clinical details of a particular patient, it is hard to know whether a given procedure might be useful or not.”

Some of the 26 services included in the study — such as arthroscopic debridement (surgical removal of tissue) for knee osteoarthritis and a form of back surgery in which collapsed disks are filled with cement — almost never provide any health benefit to patients, the researchers said.

However, some of the services can be wasteful in some cases but provide important benefits in others. For example, lower back imaging is of little benefit to patients with muscle soreness but can save the lives of patients with cancer or a spinal abscess.

“Because the value of a service depends on the patient, it is challenging to devise payment and coverage policies that limit wasteful care but not valuable care. Some tests and treatments that are wasteful across the board are easy targets — we can stop paying for them. But for most services, incentives that allow providers greater discretion at the point of care may be needed to cut significant amounts of waste while minimizing unintended consequences,” said McWilliams, who is also a practicing general internist at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston.

U.S. health care spending is higher than ever and continues to increase. Eliminating wasteful spending in Medicare and throughout the health care system is an important way to reduce costs while improving or at least maintaining quality of care, according to the study authors.

Copyright © 2014 HealthDay. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Latest Stories

  • News

    Juneau company purchases property for seawater heating plant

    by Associated Press on Dec 06, 9:00

    A waterfront property in downtown Juneau could change the way the city is heated. The Juneau Empire reports that Juneau Hydropower Inc. has entered an agreement with the Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority to buy a 2-acre lot of land in downtown Juneau. The $1.3 million deal isn’t finalized, but the Mental Health Trust’s board has […]

  • News

    APD: Anchorage teen missing for more than a month found safe

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 06, 7:58

    Police in Anchorage announced early Tuesday morning that 14-year-old Mary Rotzler was located by the Alaska State Troopers in the Matanuska-Susitna Borough and is safe. The East High School freshman ran away from home on Nov. 1. Her mother told KTVA that Rotzler has a drug and alcohol addiction and was about to begin treatment — part of the […]

  • ‘That could have been my daughter’: Mother of teen murder suspect’s ex-girlfriend speaks out

    by Daniella Rivera on Dec 05, 23:22

    While the Valley community is trying to process the disturbing details of a Palmer teen’s murder, a mother who says her daughter dated the teen suspect is speaking out. Court documents released on Monday revealed the chilling details of 16-year-old David Grunwald’s murder, saying he was beaten, kidnapped, and walked into the woods before he […]

  • UPDATE: 3 wounded in Spenard shooting

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 05, 20:03

    Last updated at 8:56 p.m. on Monday, Dec. 5 The Anchorage Police Department is investigating a shooting that left at least one person injured. The shooting was reported at 7:30 p.m. on West 30th Avenue, according to APD spokeswoman Jennifer Castro. She said a male victim was transported to the hospital for emergency surgery following the […]

  • Schools help students heal after classmate’s murder

    by Shannon Ballard on Dec 05, 18:53

    It’s still nearly impossible to go anywhere in the Valley without seeing David Grunwald’s missing person flyers plastered to light poles and store windows. The 16-year-old’s body was discovered over the weekend. On Monday, his friends at Mat-Su Career and Technical High School returned to class for the first time after learning of Grunwald’s death. “This has […]

  • News

    M/V Susitna arrives in the Philippines

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 05, 16:53

    The Alaska ferry M/V Susitna arrived safely at the Subic Bay Freeport Zone in the Philippines on Friday, according to local news sources. The vessel was sold by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough to the Philippine Red Cross (PRC) in June. PRC paid $1.75 million for the M/V Susitna, which cost around $80 million to build. According […]

  • News

    Juneau police investigate student’s alleged threats of school shooting

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 05, 16:51

    The Juneau Police Department says a threat was made against a local high school over the weekend, prompting the department to dispatch officers to area schools on Monday as a reassurance to the community. While no arrests have been made, Juneau police say they have identified and interviewed a 17-year-old Thunder Mountain High School student for […]

  • Police find stolen truck abandoned after owner shot at alleged thieves

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Dec 05, 15:42

    Updated at 8 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 6 Police in Anchorage have located a stolen truck that was damaged during a shooting involving its owner and two alleged thieves. The Anchorage Police Department issued a statement Tuesday morning that a maroon 1999 GMC pickup, reported stolen on Dec. 2, was found by police last night near East 20th […]