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Costs and Trends in Utilization of Low-value Services Among Older Adults With Commercial Insurance or Medicare Advantage

Carter, Elizabeth A. PhD, MPH*,†; Morin, Pamela E. MBA; Lind, Keith D. JD, MS*

doi: 10.1097/MLR.0000000000000809
Original Articles

Background: Overutilization of low-value services (unnecessary or minimally beneficial tests or procedures) has been cited as a large contributor to the high costs of health care in the United States.

Objectives: To analyze trends in utilization of low-value services from 2009 to 2014 among commercial and Medicare Advantage (MA) enrollees 50 and older.

Research Design: A retrospective analysis of deidentified claims obtained from the OptumLab Data Warehouse.

Subjects: Adults 50 and older enrolled in commercial plans and adults 65 and older enrolled in MA plans between 2009 and 2014.

Measures: Costs and utilization of 16 low-value services in the following categories: cancer screening, imaging, and invasive procedures.

Results: The most commonly performed low-value service was imaging of the head for syncope, at rates of 33%–39% in commercial enrollees and 45% in MA enrollees. The least common service was peripheral artery stenting (<1%) in commercial enrollees, and laminectomy (0.15% in 2009) and renal artery stenting in MA enrollees (0.07% in 2014). Renal artery stenting decreased by roughly 75% over the study period, the largest decrease in utilization, with ∼$30 million and $10 million in reduced spending for commercial and MA plans and enrollees, respectively. Spending on these services in 2014 totaled $317.6 million for commercial and $100.8 million for MA health plans.

Conclusions: Clinicians, researchers, and policymakers should strive to reach consensus on methods for more reliably and accurately identifying low-value service utilization. Greater consistency would facilitate monitoring use of low-value services and changing clinical practice patterns over time.

*AARP Public Policy Institute, Washington, DC

OptumLabs Cambridge, MA

The authors declare no conflict of interest.

Reprints: Elizabeth A. Carter, PhD, MPH, AARP Public Policy Institute, 601 E. Street NW, Washington, DC 20049. E-mail: ecarter@aarp.org.

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