Elderly Americans Getting Too Many Colonoscopies

Study says unnecessary colon screening are health risk, drain on Medicare
By Newser Editors and Wire Services
Posted May 10, 2011 11:38 AM CDT
Colon Cancer Tests: Elderly Americans Getting Too Many Colonoscopies
In this photo taken Wednesday, Jan. 19, 2011, senior citizens do physical therapy at the Glendale Gardens Adult Day Health Care center in Glendale, Calif.   (AP Photo/Damian Dovarganes)

Americans are getting repeat colon cancer tests they don't need and Medicare is paying for it, a new study reveals. The screening is only necessary once every 10 years, but almost half of the Medicare patients in the study had a colonoscopy less than seven years after getting normal results from a previous one. And while most of those age 80 and up no longer need the exam at all—in fact, for those over 85, the risks outweigh the benefit—one-third of 80-plus seniors in the study returned for another.

Colonoscopy costs vary widely, but typically exceed $1,000. While Medicare rules say the government won't pay for too-frequent colonoscopies, only 2% of the study claims were denied for repeat exams in people without symptoms. And though colonoscopies are considered one of the most effective screening tests available, only 27% of all study patients with frequent exams had symptoms that might have raised suspicion of cancer. These results suggest the Medicare regulation "is not working," says the study's author. (Read more elderly stories.)

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