Bioethics Blogs

Found: Billions of Wasted Medicare Dollars

Found Wasted Medicare MoneyIt is well known that Medicare expenditures threaten the financial solvency of the U.S. government. And it is pretty well agreed upon that some of our Medicare spending goes towards wasteful medical care.

But which medical care is wasteful and how much is such care costing us?  A study in JAMA Internal Medicine provides a sneak peek at answers to these important questions. The research, led by Aaron Schwartz , a graduate student at Harvard, focused on interventions that medical experts deem to provide little or no health benefit. For example, the Choosing Wisely campaign, promoted by medical societies, has concluded that testing people’s lung function prior to low and intermediate-risk surgeries does not improve surgical outcomes. Similarly, the United States Preventive Services Task Force has concluded that colon cancer screenings yield more harms than benefits for elderly patients.

The researchers explored how often Medicare beneficiaries received unnecessary services like this, a list of 26 tests or procedures that medical experts have deemed to be unnecessary. The researchers discovered that Medicare patients, on average, received one such intervention per year. The worse culprit, financially speaking, was stenting (propping open) coronary arteries for people with stable heart disease, which by one of their estimates leads to almost $3 billion per year of wasted Medicare spending. Close behind was another cardiology procedure, stress testing for patients with stable heart disease, which triggered over $2 billion of unnecessary spending. Toss in $200 million per year for unnecessary back imaging, another $200 million for unnecessary imaging tests to evaluate headaches, and the researchers uncovered over $8 billion of Medicare waste, for just these 26 interventions.

The views, opinions and positions expressed by these authors and blogs are theirs and do not necessarily represent that of the Bioethics Research Library and Kennedy Institute of Ethics or Georgetown University.