NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


August 4, 2004

Since medical experts began recommending widespread testing of healthy adults for colon cancer, hundreds of thousands have lined up for colonoscopies. But the rush to get tested has strained the health care system, prompting long waits for the procedure in some areas. It has also increased costs for Medicare and private insurers; but those costs will more than double -- by billions of dollars annually -- if all the adult Americans for whom it is recommended have the procedure.

The demand for colonoscopies has jumped in the past few years, and hospitals are trying to accommodate as many patients as they can:

  • Massachusetts General Hospital expects to conduct 25,000 colonoscopies and other such imaging procedures in 2004, a 20 percent jump in one year.
  • Boston Medical Center began scheduling colonoscopies on Saturdays and expects to perform 10,000 this year, more than double the number five years ago.
  • Medicare paid for 381,364 screening tests for healthy enrollees last year, more than double the number two years ago.
  • But according to the Centers for Disease Control (CDC), only 45 percent of men and 41 percent of women age 50 and over had undergone some form of colon cancer screening.
  • Because colonoscopies are generally profitable for doctors and hospitals, some physicians are opening up private colonoscopy centers, which may reduce the waiting time for the procedure.

    Source: Liz Kowalczyk, "Colonoscopies tax health industry," Boston Globe, August 1, 2004.

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