• 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

    DOC will shut down Palmer Correctional Complex, move inmates

    by KTVA CBS 11 News on Jul 26, 11:31

    The Department of Corrections announced Tuesday morning plans to shut down the Palmer Correction Center, and move its staff and inmates. In a release from DOC, the department said the decision was made in an effort to reduce the agency’s budget. According to DOC, they plan to increase the staffing and safety at other facilities. The […]

  • Lifestyle

    Area in Denali Park to reopen after bear sightings

    by Associated Press on Jul 26, 8:42

    FAIRBANKS, Alaska (AP) – Denali National Park officials are planning to reopen an area of the park that had been closed because of a problem grizzly bear, which will be killed by park rangers once it is located. The Fairbanks Daily News-Miner reports (http://bit.ly/2a9A5z0) that park spokeswoman Katheen Kelly says the Mountain Vista and Savage […]

  • News

    A new way to measure quality of early child care programs in Alaska

    by Sierra Starks on Jul 26, 8:12

    Choosing the right fit when it comes to early child care just got easier for parents in Alaska. The state now has a way to measure the quality of early child care and learning programs, called Learn and Grow. Child care centers and programs who sign up are evaluated on numerous standards, like health and safety, […]

  • News

    Russian ‘fingerprints’ left behind on DNC hack

    by CBS News on Jul 26, 8:04

    The U.S. believes that people working for the Russian government are behind the hack of internal emails at the Democratic National Committee, officials confirmed Tuesday to CBS News. A U.S. intelligence official told CBS News that the signature of the breach is Russian and the U.S. government has identified methods and techniques used by Russia in […]

  • News

    Networking with Arctic neighbors: Alaska rejoins the Northern Forum

    by Liz Raines on Jul 26, 7:06

    Alaska is looking to its neighbors in the north for support on some of the challenging issues unique to the Arctic. On Monday, Gov. Bill Walker signed a declaration making Alaska a member of the Northern Forum, a nonprofit organization made up of regional governments from eight countries, which includes Russia. The symbolic union also […]

  • News

    Juneau schools use data to ensure kids don’t get left behind

    by Associated Press on Jul 26, 6:48

    JUNEAU, Alaska (AP) – The Juneau School District is using a new approach to help struggling students meet the standards of the district’s core curriculum with a program that tracks students’ academic progress and identifies which ones need extra help. Director of Student Services Bridget Weiss tells KTOO-FM (http://bit.ly/2a84kX4) the program uses data to categorize […]

  • News

    Police chief, mayor announce new APD unit dedicated to catching drunk drivers

    by Eric Ruble on Jul 25, 19:31

    The Anchorage Police Department is cracking down on drunk drivers. A new unit committed to catching drunk drivers will soon be patrolling the streets of Anchorage during the evening hours. “In our city, if you drive impaired, you will get caught,” Anchorage police chief Chris Tolley said Monday, standing alongside Mayor Ethan Berkowitz. The unit […]

  • Lifestyle

    Transport truck rolls, spills chum salmon across Juneau road

    by Associated Press on Jul 25, 18:42

    Alaskans are always excited by salmon runs, unless it’s across a highway. A transport truck carrying chum salmon to a cannery in Alaska’s capital city rolled Monday afternoon, spilling the fish across three of the highway’s four lanes and backing up traffic for about 90 minutes. Juneau police spokesman Lt. David Campbell said his police […]