• 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

  • Crime

    Anchorage police seeking potential victims in harassment case

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 24, 17:08

    ANCHORAGE — The Anchorage Police Department says there may be more victims of a man accused of inappropriately touching children at the Anchorage Lutheran School. Adam Wilkinson, 32, worked for the school as a Child Watch employee between 1999 and 2014, and recently entered a guilty plea on a single count of first-degree harassment, police […]

  • News

    Nenana Ice Classic: Winning time is 2:25 p.m.

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 24, 16:59

    Nenana Ice Classic officials say the official winning time for the 2015 Nenana Ice Classic is 2:25 p.m. Alaska Standard Time on April 24. The jackpot for ticket holders with the winning time is $330,330. The payoff for 2015′s jackpot will be awarded June 1, according to NIC website. The tripod tipped over onto the […]

  • News

    A Moving Target: Stopping booze at the river

    by Ben Matheson / KYUK on Apr 24, 14:56

    Citizens in Bethel are weighing a decision on a proposal for the for the first liquor store in decades. In the shadow of the debate is a powerful and elaborate bootlegging economy across the Yukon-Kuskokwim Delta. The region’s three Western Alaska Alcohol and Narcotics Taskforce investigators can’t be everywhere at once. Some villages are trying to fill […]

  • Crime

    Jerry Active found guilty in 2013 homicide, sexual assault case

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 24, 13:27

    Jerry Active was found guilty on 12 counts Friday for killing two grandparents and then assaulting three generations of the same family at an Anchorage home in 2013. The jury found Active guilty of two counts of first-degree murder, two count of second-degree murder, two counts of first-degree sexual assault, one count of first-degree sexual […]

  • DayBreak

    Mic Check in the Morning: Troubadour North

    by Daybreak Staff on Apr 24, 12:37

    Troubadour North recently won the preliminary round of Hard Rock Rising – a battle of the bands style competition at the Hard Rock Cafe in downtown Anchorage. The band now heads to the finals on May 6 to face the winner of next week’s preliminary round. At stake is $1,000 and a potential spot in […]

  • News

    State budget cuts force UAA leadership to take furloughs; layoffs imminent

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Apr 24, 12:11

    A sign of more reductions to come, University of Alaska Anchorage leadership will start taking furloughs to ease the sting of state budget cuts. UAA is dealing with a budget shortfall of about $19.5 million, a number that is subject to change as a state budget still has to be passed by the Legislature and […]

  • News

    Federal agency, Alaska businesses partner on whale program

    by Associated Press on Apr 24, 11:24

    Southeast Alaska companies have agreed to participate in a program intended to help mitigate boats’ impacts on whales. The National Marine Fisheries Service announced Thursday in a press release that it was launching a voluntary program in Alaska called Whale SENSE. According to the release, the program is intended to help reduce disturbances when whales […]

  • DayBreak

    Mic Check in the Morning: Color Me Badd

    by Daybreak Staff on Apr 24, 10:21

    Color Me Badd is back in Alaska with a flashback to some of their hit ’90s music for a prom 3.0 event happening this weekend. “We will do a lot of old hits we had back in the ’90s,” said Mark Calderon, singer with Color Me Badd. “We got some new stuff that will be […]