• 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

  • DayBreak

    Mic Check in the Morning: The Hannah Yoter Band

    by Daybreak Staff on Oct 27, 16:11

    With a new album coming out Nov. 18 and a selection of shows this holiday season, The Hannah Yoter Band took some time out Thursday morning to bring their folky Americana sound to the Daybreak studio. Yoter said the album, “Something Good,” was recorded mostly live in a cabin in Hope, Alaska, where the singer hails from. The live […]

  • News

    Attorneys plan to seek mediation in Pebble Mine case

    by Associated Press on Oct 27, 16:03

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – Attorneys plan to seek mediation in a lawsuit between the group behind the proposed Pebble Mine and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency. In a court filing Thursday, attorneys for the Pebble Limited Partnership said the parties would seek mediation. A recent request by both sides to extend the discovery period in […]

  • Sports

    University of Alaska plan looks to cut skiing, indoor track programs

    by Dave Goldman on Oct 27, 15:24

    The University of Alaska Anchorage will likely cut its men’s and women’s skiing and indoor track programs as early as next year. University President Jim Johnsen and UAA athletic director Keith Hackett made the announcement Thursday at a joint press conference at the Alaska Airlines Center. It’s part of the ongoing effort since the Strategic […]

  • UAA’s ‘And Then There Were None’ opens for Halloween

    by Daybreak Staff on Oct 27, 15:21

    Agatha Christie’s murder mystery “And Then There Were None” comes alive just in time for Halloween. UAA’s Theatre and Dance department will be putting on the play starting Oct. 28. The show will run for two weekends. The plot centers around 10 people who are stuck in an island mansion, and they soon realize that they […]

  • Story Time w/Aunt Phil: The rise and fall of Knik

    by Laurel Downing Bill on Oct 27, 13:54

    When the U.S. Post Office opened its branch in Knik on Oct. 27, 1904, it signaled that Knik was a bonafide community. It only remained open for 13 years because of the federal government’s decision to bypass it when it laid out its plans for a railroad to connect Seward to Fairbanks in 1915. Thousands […]

  • News

    High school teacher attacked by grizzly while walking dogs near Seward airport

    by KTVA / AP on Oct 27, 13:17

    Last updated at 2:20 p.m. on Thursday, October 27 A man was attacked by a brown bear early Thursday morning while walking his dogs near the Seward airport. Ronn Hemstock was walking his dogs near the airport when he was attacked before daylight, according to authorities. He has been a teacher at Seward High School for 20 […]

  • Trick-or-treating family fun at the Alaska Zoo

    by Daybreak Staff on Oct 27, 10:15

    Trick or treat with some cuddly and scary animals at the Alaska Zoo as part of their Zoo Boo event this Halloween. The zoo will have trick or treat stations and educational activities. Attendees are encouraged to dress up. The Zoo Boo event will two run times; at 4:30 p.m. and another, spookier version, at 6:30 p.m. […]

  • News

    Fewer Alaskans gave to nonprofits through Pick.Click.Give

    by Associated Press on Oct 27, 9:20

    The Alaska Community Foundation says fewer people have decided to give up portions of their annual oil wealth check to support nonprofit organizations this year. Alaska’s Energy Desk reports the foundation’s Pick.Click.Give. program allows Alaskans to donate some of the money they receive from the Alaska Permanent Fund each year to hundreds of nonprofits statewide. The […]