Too many cancer screenings for Medicare patientsNews added by Benefits Pro on March 11, 2016

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Joined: September 07, 2011

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By Jack Craver

A new report concludes what many have long suggested: Medicare is spending way too much on services that its beneficiaries don’t need.

The report, authored by the Dartmouth Atlas Project, highlighted five areas in which the public health service for the elderly is probably doing more in way that not only wastes money, but may harm the health of those it seeks to help.

Far too many people are being screened for prostate and breast cancer, for instance. Increasingly, medical experts are saying that screenings for such cancers often do more harm than good, since they often result in false positives or they result in a harsh treatment that is more damaging than the cancer itself, which often develops slowly.

If the U.S. Preventative Services Taskforce recently recommended doing away entirely with screenings for prostate cancer, then screening the elderly for such illnesses is particularly absurd.

"The single hardest concept for the public to understand is the natural history of finding a cancer through a screening process," Dr. Richard Wender, of the American Cancer Society, told NPR. "Many people have the sense that had it not been found, that cancer would have threatened their life within a couple of years or maybe even a couple of months."

And yet, a quarter of men over the age of 75 got a prostate cancer screening in 2012, while the same proportion of women of the same age were screened for breast cancer.

The problem is that many doctors are hardwired to do whatever it takes to prevent death, even if making life as long as possible isn’t necessarily the patient’s priority.

Similar to controversial recommendations about end-of-life consultations in the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that were notoriously decried as “death panels,” the study suggests that doctors should speak frankly with patients about how they want the remaining years of their life to proceed before ordering up tests and aggressive treatments.

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