You still might be paying for needless medical tests, new statewide review shows

A new report from the Washington Health Alliance takes critical look at wasteful health care spending in the state.
A new report from the Washington Health Alliance takes critical look at wasteful health care spending in the state. wahealthalliance.org

You might still be nickel and dimed — or a whole lot more — for medical tests or procedures you don’t need.

That’s according to a new analysis that follows a report earlier this year about wasteful medical spending in Washington.

On the plus side, there’s help online to assist you in navigating your medical world a bit better.

The new report revealed an estimated $341 million spent on unnecessary care in one year in Washington. The analysis, done by the nonprofit Washington Health Alliance, was based on a review of insurance claims filed in the state commercially and through Medicaid from July 1, 2016, through June 30, 2017.

The alliance reviewed filings of 4.3 million patients. Of the 2.9 million services reviewed, nearly half were found to be unnecessary.

The new report looked at 48 measures of common treatments, tests and procedures. Of the 2 million patients receiving one or more of those services, half experienced care that was of low value or wasteful.

Low-value or wasteful services are defined as those that show little to no value in specific cases and in many cases could cause physical, emotional or financial harm to patients.

In the review, the overall “waste index” registered just slightly higher among those commercially insured versus Medicaid — 48.6 percent compared to 45.5 percent.

“We all need to work harder toward reducing low-value care,” Nancy Giunto, executive director of the alliance, said in a news release. “We cannot continue to deny the problem of waste in health care.”

The results of the new report were similar to the group’s analysis released in February. In that report, 36 percent of spending on the services reviewed went to low-value treatments or procedures totaling an estimated $282 million. That report reviewed a about 2.4 million commercially insured patient filings.

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Though the latest review included a larger number of patients, the report notes that the similarities in findings with its earlier report “suggests a strong practice pattern for these areas of care.”

The bulk of overuse seen in the alliance’s report — 88 percent — was found in 10 services, including:

Opiates prescribed for low back pain.

Annual EKGs and other cardiac screening for low-risk individuals.

Eye-imaging tests for patients without significant eye disease.

Preoperative tests and lab studies before low-risk surgery for low-risk individuals.

Too frequent screening for cervical and prostate cancer and vitamin D deficiency.

The alliance, along with Washington Health Care Authority’s Healthier Washington, offer a website that focuses on how to best handle medical visits from a consumer’s perspective.

Topics include “Becoming a savvy health care shopper,” “Advocating for others,” “After a visit,” “Making decisions about treatment” and “Choosing where to go for care.”

The website is at http://www.ownyourhealthwa.org/

The alliance’s December report on wasteful spending is at https://bit.ly/2Eu3mbm.