November 28, 2014

Unnecessary Screenings Increase Health Care Expenditures

  • The American health care system is a patchwork of public and private programs that serve citizens in different ways, depending on their age, military...

Opponents of health care reform often talk as if any cost savings would come at the expense of patient care. Yet this assumes that the money is being well spent, and there is ample evidence that this is not always the case.

A study released last week on cancer screening among Americans over age 65 provides a good example. It found that even many people who are expected to die within five years are subjected to routine and sometimes difficult cancer screenings that serve little purpose -- and may lead to further over-treatments.

“A substantial proportion of the U.S. population with limited life expectancy received prostate, breast, cervical, and colorectal cancer screening that is unlikely to provide net benefits,” says the study, which appears in JAMA (Journal of the American Medical Association). “These results suggest that overscreening is common in both men and women, which not only increases health care expenditures but can lead to net patient harm.”

The federal government, however, faces constant pressure to provide additional health benefits for older Americans.

It was reported elsewhere last week, for example, that the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) is considering proposals from some advocacy organizations that the government pay for HIV screening for all Medicare beneficiaries rather than just those who are considered at high risk.