• 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

    Obama in Seward: Exit Glacier confirms climate change concern

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 01, 14:49

    Day 2 of President Barack Obama’s trip to Alaska began with a breakfast stop in Anchorage at Snow City Cafe. The president then boarded Marine One and he and the air convoy headed to Seward. Touching down close to 11:30 a.m., Obama was greeted by Jean Bardarson, mayor of the City of Seward, and Bert Frost, regional […]

  • DayBreak

    Travel Tuesday: Labor Day weekend getaways

    by Daybreak Staff on Sep 01, 12:06

    The unofficial end to summer is right around the corner. Still, Alaskans won’t hesitate to take advantage of the upcoming Labor Day weekend. Family fun expert Erin Kirkland joined Daybreak Tuesday with her Top 5 list of destinations and activities for the long weekend ahead: Camping and hiking in Denali National Park and Preserve “Hurricane Turn” […]

  • Lifestyle

    UPDATE: ConocoPhillips says Alaska will be affected by expected job cuts

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 01, 11:35

    Energy company ConocoPhillips has confirmed that it is making more cuts to its 18,100-member global workforce — and Alaska will again be affected by those cuts. The company confirmed Tuesday afternoon that it expects approximately 10 percent of its global workforce to be impacted through those reductions. ConocoPhillips says the biggest proportion of the cuts will […]

  • News

    President Obama grabs breakfast to-go at Anchorage’s Snow City Cafe

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 01, 11:23

    Diners at Anchorage’s well-known Snow City Cafe were greeted to a special surprise Tuesday morning: a visit from President Barack Obama. A crowd gathered outside the restaurant, eager to catch a glimpse of the President as he stopped in to grab a to-go order before his scheduled visit to Exit Glacier in Seward. And what […]

  • Crime

    Anchorage police searching for man in connection with overnight crime spree

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Sep 01, 10:46

    Anchorage police are looking for a man they believe is connected to a rash of crimes overnight, including vehicle theft and robbery. Around midnight Tuesday, Anchorage Police Department dispatch received a report about a person “possibly using drugs” inside a white sport-utility vehicle near Third Avenue and Lane Street in East Anchorage. When officers approached […]

  • News

    White House: Alaska’s Medicaid expansion ‘right decision’

    by Associated Press on Sep 01, 10:12

    The White House is praising Alaska Gov. Bill Walker’s expansion of Medicaid over the wishes of the Republican-led Legislature, calling it the “right decision.” Alaska on Tuesday became the 29th state to expand Medicaid. White House spokesman Josh Earnest, who is traveling in Alaska with President Barack Obama, said expansion prioritizes “the heath of the […]

  • Weather

    Daybreak weather, Sept. 1

    by Rachael Penton on Sep 01, 8:53

    Anchorage Sunny with a high temperature around 60 degrees. N winds 5-20 mph. Kenai and Prince William Sound Mostly sunny with highs in the upper 50s to lower 60s. Breezy N winds 15-30 mph through early afternoon. Southeast Morning showers, followed by some afternoon clearing. Highs in the upper 50s. Interior Partly sunny with isolated […]

  • News

    Bethel homeless shelter receives state grant

    by Associated Press on Sep 01, 8:22

    A homeless shelter in Bethel has been awarded state funding even as the Alaska Legislature continues to slash the budget. KYUK-AM reports (http://bit.ly/1PIlKbK) that Bethel Winter House has received $29,000 through the Community Initiative Matching Grant Program. This is the second year the shelter has received a state grant. Winter House Chair Eva Malvich says […]