A Costly Equation: Medical Dollars Wasted Are Greater Than the U.S. Defense Budget
New report analyzes the cost of medical waste in America.
This post is part of our ongoing look at patient safety.
I’ve heard a lot of reports about the staggering amount of fraud, overtreatment and unnecessary health care in the United States. But the recent “Best Care at Lower Cost” report by the Institute of Medicine included this stunner: In 2009, the health care system wasted an estimated $765 billion– more than the entire budget of the Department of Defense.
I’ve got to hand it to the IOM committee for finding an interesting way to give those numbers a punch.
The report outlined the varieties of waste: Care is provided that’s not based on evidence; discretionary care is used too much; high cost options are chosen rather than avoided; care is fragmented; insurance administration and paperwork are inefficient; and fraud is at every level. The estimates of money poorly spent included:
- $210 billion on overuse and unnecessary care.
- $130 billion in inefficiency, including mistakes and harm.
- $190 billion in excess administrative costs.
The $765 billion total estimate is about $100 billion more than the Defense Department budget for the same year. That’s a maddening amount of money to blow.
Whose money is being wasted? Yours and mine. Medical inflation increases health insurance premiums. In 2010, Medicare spent an estimated $48 billion– our tax dollars – on overpayment and waste. But the most tragic victims are people who need medical care but don’t have the money to pay for it. The cost of care is a major barrierto many patients, and its driven higher by waste.
Who’s profiting from the status quo? Members of the health care industry – though certainly not everyone is feeding at the trough. When I wrote recentlyabout unnecessary stents, Dr. David Brown, an interventional cardiologist and professor of medicine at SUNY-Stony Brook School of Medicine, told me unnecessary treatment persists because “the medical system is addicted to the revenues that it generates.”
And here’s the kicker: The debates about health care reform might be moot if we eliminated the waste. The net cost of healthcare reform (i.e., President Obama’s Affordable Care Act) is estimated to be $1.1 trillion over a 10 year period. That’s less than two years of the estimated waste in health care.
So what do you think? The system is hemorrhaging money. What can be done to stop it? Have you had experiences with any medical facilities working in innovative ways to cut costs?
More than 1 million patients suffer harm each year while being treated in the U.S. health care system. Even more receive substandard care or costly overtreatment.
The Story So Far
Too many patients suffer harm instead of healing in U.S. medicine. That’s why ProPublica’s reporters have investigated everything from deadly dialysis centers and dangerous hospitals to the failure of state boards to discipline incompetent nurses.
This page allows patients, providers and readers to join the patient safety conversation. Our goal is to find out why so many patients are suffering harm and highlight the best ways to solve the problem. Here you’ll find regular updates, and places to share your stories, views or expertise.
Read all of our posts on patient safety, and find out how to get involved.
Got a tip? Fill out our form.
Share Your Story
Your input can help ProPublica's reporting.
Have you worked in health care? Tell us what you’ve observed about patient safety.
Have you or a loved one been harmed? Tell us about it.
Join the Discussion
Join the over 1,500 members of ProPublica's Patient Harm Group to learn, share your story and connect with others.
Icon graphics courtesy of the Noun Project.
Latest Stories in this Project
- Orthopedic Board Hasn’t Adopted Surgeon Scorecard After All
- Orthopedic Board Will Use Surgeon Scorecard to Help Re-certify Docs
- Our Rebuttal to RAND’s Critique of Surgeon Scorecard
- Editor’s Note: ‘Dr. Abscess’ and Why Surgeon Scorecard Matters
- For a Surgeon With a History of Complications, a Felony Past