Stephanie Dwilson

Unnecessary Health Care Expenses: How to Avoid Them

Unnecessary health care expenses can end up costing companies and their employees a lot. As NPR reports, a study by the National Academy of Medicine found that the U.S. health care system wastes $210 billion on unnecessary or needlessly expensive care annually. But what distinguishes an unnecessary expense from a necessary one, and how can you teach your employees to avoid spending on care they don’t need?

Examples of Unnecessary Treatment

Patients can fall victim to many unnecessary expenses, not realizing that they’re being overcharged or accruing unnecessary health care costs. These can include procedures, tests or higher-level care that has actually been proven to be ineffective, according to NPR. Here are just a few examples.

  • X-rays or MRIs for lower back pain. Lower back pain is common and often resolves on its own, so expensive scans shouldn’t be done right away, AARP reports. Sometimes people with no back pain will still show issues on scans, and sometimes imaging won’t show the cause at all. While people who get MRIs during the first month of back pain may be more likely to get surgery, they may not find relief any quicker.
  • PET scans for Alzheimer’s. Some PET scans can show beta-amyloid plaques in the brain, according to AARP, but these scans may find plaques even in people whose memories are fine. At this time, it doesn’t appear that everyone who has them will necessarily develop the disease.
  • Surgery too soon. The New Yorker wrote about a patient who was told that he needed his spine fused for severe back pain. When he went to the best spine center in his region, he learned that disc disease didn’t cause his pain. Instead, he just needed pain medication and injections that fixed his problems in a few weeks.
  • Cosmetic add-ons like ear piercings during surgery. These aren’t necessary at all, and an unsuspecting patient might think they’re being offered for free. But they can actually cost thousands.

How to Spot Unneeded Health Expenses

Without a medical degree, it can be difficult to spot every unnecessary procedure. You can help empower your employees by giving them ideas of what to look out for. Here are a few suggestions to pass along:

  • If extra procedures are suggested for a surgery, always ask what those procedures will cost. Most extras are not free.
  • When getting blood work, ask for a detailed list of every test being run to catch anything unnecessary, for example a pregnancy test for someone who is past menopause.
  • If a serious invasive procedure is suggested, consider getting a second or even a third opinion to make sure the root cause has been correctly identified. For example, plantar fasciitis can sometimes lead to surgery, but you can try exercises and other treatments first that might be just as effective.
  • Ask questions without fear. It is important that you feel comfortable asking your doctor questions that prioritize your health.
  • Don’t feel pressured to make decisions about tests and procedures right away. Feel free to go home and do some research first. And take the time to call your insurance carrier to find out what’s covered.
  • Have one primary care doctor who coordinates with specialists. This can help cut down on duplicate tests from different doctors.

When talking to your employees about unnecessary health care expenses, don’t overfocus on the cost. Your staff might misinterpret the conversation and think that you’re just trying to save money. Instead, emphasize that you want to make sure your employees get the best and most effective treatment possible. After all, if they get an expensive procedure that ultimately doesn’t work, it only hurts them in the long run.

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