NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Overtreating Medicare Patients Costs $8 Billion

May 16, 2014

A new study reveals that up to 42 percent of Medicare patients received at least one unnecessary medical procedure during a single year, the Associated Press reports.

Researchers in Harvard Medical School's health policy department examined Medicare claims data for 1.3 million patients in 2009. They compared that data with a list of 26 medical procedures considered to be "low value" and likely indicative of overuse.  Overtreatment, they found, was extremely costly:

  • The study's results indicated that up to 42 percent of Medicare patients received at least one unnecessary procedure, at a cost of up to $8 billion.
  • Because the researchers lacked specific health data about patients, they were unable to verify whether some of these procedures might have been justified. Altering their criteria to be more conservative, they still found that one quarter of patients received at least one unnecessary service, costing $2 billion.

The study's authors did not pinpoint a precise reason for the unnecessary services, but they indicated that fear of malpractice suits, higher payments for additional procedures, and patient demand were all possible reasons.

In 2012, a report from the Institute of Medicine found that 30 percent of health spending in the U.S. was the result of overtreatment or excessive costs, at a cost of $750 billion.

Source:  "Overtreating Medicare patients may costs as much as $8 billion, study says," Associated Press, May 12, 2014.  


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