Breast cancer care drives wasteful spending

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When it comes to breast cancer screening, higher spending doesn't mean improved outcomes. Rather, it means millions of Medicare dollars wasted, according to a study in JAMA Internal Medicine.

Medicare spends more than $1 billion a year on breast cancer screening, yet there's no evidence linking screening expenditures and the detection of advanced cancers.

Although the United States Preventive Services Task Force suggests there's not enough proof on the effectiveness of screening women over 75, that group racks up $410 million in annual screening-related costs, the study noted.

Similarly, a U.K. report last fall concluded that while mammographic screening for women over 50 certainly saves lives, it also results in more cases of overdiagnosis.

"[N]o woman wants to undergo testing if it is likely to cause more harm than good, and no health system--particularly ours--can afford to spend hundreds of millions of dollars on screening programs without evidence to support them," lead study author Cary Gross, director of the Cancer Outcomes, Public Policy, and Effectiveness Research (COPPER) Center at Yale said in a Monday statement.

Meanwhile, some breast cancer drugs are drivers of wasteful spending, according to two new reports from the Office of the Inspector General.

Without adequate controls to prevent incorrect billing, Medicare contractors overpaid providers for the breast cancer drug Herceptin, leading to $1.15 million and $683,000 in Medicare overpayments.

And with another January study showing hospitals waste billions of dollars on maternity care, especially unnecessary C-sections, providers may target women's services to cut costs without compromising care.

To learn more:
- read the Yale study abstract
- check out the research announcement  
- here are the OIG reports on overpayments

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