• 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

    Kodiak underwear thief gets 90 days in jail

    by Associated Press on Jul 03, 10:24

    The man who broke into homes and stole women’s underwear will undergo a mental health evaluation. The Kodiak Daily Mirror reports (http://bit.ly/1RWdbKu) 19-year-old Ryan Cornelio was sentenced Wednesday to 90 days in jail and ordered to receive a sexuality-focused mental health evaluation. He pleaded guilty to two counts of attempted burglary in March. Cornelio had […]

  • DayBreak

    Freestyle Friday: Julian Crenshaw

    by Daybreak Staff on Jul 03, 8:59

    Inspired by Michael Jackson, an Anchorage dancer took the KTVA stage for a “Freestyle Friday” edition of Daybreak’s Mic Check in the Morning. Julian Crenshaw, 22, was born and raised in Georgia. After numerous stops all over the country, he now resides in Anchorage, where you can often find him performing downtown. Crenshaw also teaches […]

  • News

    Marijuana board holds first meeting, wants laws changed

    by Associated Press on Jul 03, 8:42

    Alaska’s newly appointed Marijuana Control Board has proposed four changes to state marijuana laws. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/1JHMSWn) the board held its first meeting Thursday in Fairbanks. They signed off on statutory changes it wants the Alaska Legislature to change in last year’s ballot measure that legalized commercial marijuana. The four issues include […]

  • DayBreak

    Meet Rhett and Scarlet, Daybreak’s Adopt-A-Pets

    by Daybreak Staff on Jul 03, 8:20

    From the Anchorage Animal Care and Control Center: Rhett and Scarlet are a happy pair of ferrets that enjoy each other’s company – playing and romping with each other when not curled up together sleeping. They are both friendly with people and will come right up to you for attention. Cute and lively companions, they can be […]

  • DayBreak

    Alaska’s 1st H&M store to add 60 jobs, promote garment recycling

    by Sierra Starks on Jul 03, 7:53

    The massive Save-the-Date sign is hard to miss for those driving down the Old Seward Highway in South Anchorage. H&M’s first Alaska location opens its doors on July 16 at the Dimond Center. Located in the southeast tower of the mall, this location joins more than 3,600 worldwide. Posters of well-dressed models and “Straight from […]

  • Mt. Marathon Race

    KTVA’s Emily Carlson trains for her first Mount Marathon

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 03, 7:44

    Every year on the Fourth of July, hundreds of racers put their bodies through the grueling test of endurance that is Mount Marathon. Emily Carlson is racing for the first time this year and shows us what it takes to compete in this truly Alaskan race.  

  • Lifestyle

    Ford recalls 433K cars because of software problem

    by Associated Press on Jul 03, 7:38

    Ford is recalling 433,000 vehicles, including 2015 Focus, C-MAX and Escape models, because of a software problem that could keep their engines running after drivers try to shut them down. Ford Motor Co. says there is a flaw in the body control module software in the vehicles. As a result of the problem, the engine […]

  • News

    ‘Lost’ couple found at Sitka circus

    by Associated Press on Jul 03, 7:29

    A search for a California couple whose Sitka bed-and-breakfast host reported them missing came to a happy end when police discovered the couple had been at the circus. The Daily Sitka Sentinel reports (http://bit.ly/1epnI43) Sitka Fire Department search and rescue Capt. Lance Ewers says the couple was last seen by their B&B host Tuesday morning […]