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May 14, 2013
For the last year and a half, residents of the Washington, D.C., metro area have been blizzarded with direct mail and print and media ads promoting a $139 package of "five life-saving tests for heart disease and stroke." The tests are targeted at consumers who are worried about their risk of sudden death or disability. To get tested, they need only to show up at a given location on a given day and climb into a specially equipped van operated by a medical-screening company called HealthFair. Those with worrisome findings need not look far for a referral for follow-up testing or more sophisticated care — the buses carry the reassuring logo of Inova Health System, one of the region's largest hospital networks, a system that prides itself on providing high quality medical care.
Consumers also must be prepared to pay; the tests are not usually covered by insurance. And there's good reason for this. In most cases, the tests aren't necessary, and may expose patients to additional risks through follow-up tests and procedures, according to a story reported by Kaiser Health News and published in Tuesday's Washington Post. The story notes that the influential U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent government panel that evaluates the evidence and rules on which tests have value and which do not, as well as several medical specialty associations and other groups that craft medical guidelines, reject the use of most of the tests on people who lack symptoms or significant risk factors. The evidence is strong, say these organizations, that the tests' benefits fail to outweigh their risks, including false positives (results that suggest nonexistent problems) that generate followup procedures and unnecessary operations drive up the cost of care, generate needless anxiety, and put patients at risk.
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May 8, 2013
Today the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services released new data that for the first time, according to Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, "gives consumers information on what hospitals charge." It laid out what every hospital in the U.S. bills CMS for the 100 most common Medicare procedures and conditions, and how much the hospital is reimbursed.
The big news, Sebelius informed reporters on a call-in news conference, was that the amounts hospitals bill Medicare charge for the same procedure "vary dramatically in ways that can't be easily explained."