Study: Knee replacements are cost effective

Many in healthcare policy circles debate whether expensive surgical procedures actually have any long-term benefit or lower costs. In the case of knee replacements, it seems, the answer is "yes."

The U.S. spent about $11 billion on about 500,000 knee replacements in 2005, with the number growing as life expectancy grows and rates of obesity rise. That's costly, but may be worth the price, with some studies concluding that total knee replacement is 90 percent effective at improving function and relieving painful symptoms.

Now, new research on the $20,000 procedure appearing in the current Archives of Internal Medicine has concluded that the replacement offers about one year of better quality of life compared to patients who didn't get the replacement.

To get a handle on how effective knee replacements were, researchers created a computer model using Medicare claims and other data, with patients averaging 74 years of age. The analysis concluded that the year of benefit cost about $18,300, which falls decidedly within the commonly-accepted threshold of the $50,000 per year that is considered cost-effective.

To learn more about the study:
- read this Wall Street Journal piece