Cost Savings of Investing in Prevention Questioned

Investing in prevention may save lives, but there’s less consensus about whether preventative services save the healthcare system money in the long run, Kaiser Health News reported Aug. 4.

Congress is considering legislation to require Medicare and private health insurance to cover an array of preventive services — one of President Obama’s core requirements for healthcare reform. Health insurers, however, oppose the mandate, saying it will increase premiums.

“In the field of prevention, few areas save a lot of lives and money,” said Barnett Kramer, associate director for disease prevention at the National Institutes of Health. Smoking-cessation programs and childhood immunizations have been shown to deliver cost savings, he said, but the cost-benefits of screening for breast cancer and cervical cancer are less clear.

Screening men for prostate cancer “does not clearly save lives and many men who get aggressive treatment clearly do not need aggressive treatment,” said Otis W. Brawley of the American Cancer Society.

Removing copayments and deductibles for preventive services not only won’t save money but would cost Medicare $2.8 billion over a decade, the Congressional Budget Office estimated, while requiring Medicaid to cover preventive services would cost $7.1 billion.

Still, the major healthcare reform bills in Congress include preventive-health provisions, and some insurers have already begun offering preventive care free of charge to patients.

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