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
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)

(Newser) – 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.