Wasted Expenditures


Each year, Americans spend billions on procedures that medical evidence says are unneeded. Why then are these operations still being performed? Consider the money facts for these surgeries that studies suggest are unnecessary:

In the 1950s, the rage was to routinely remove children’s tonsils, a procedure later found to bring absolutely no benefits to the vast majority of children. Now, each year, 300,000 children have ear tubes implanted to supposedly help drain fluid and prevent hearing problems. Data shows, however, that ear tubes do not actually help reduce the fluid in the ears. Cost: $2,000 to $4,000 per procedure; 300,000 operations per year; $600 million to $1.2 billion spent annually.

Before getting your back operated on, you might want to check the facts. Among people with precisely the same symptoms, operations like spinal fusion are performed 20 times more often in some parts of America than in others—suggesting it could be a fad. Evidence suggests that, in the long run, physical therapy, exercise, and just plain old passage of time does as much to fix the problem as surgery does. In fact, many who have had back operations are worse off for it. Cost: $50,000 per procedure; 325,000 spinal fusions per year; $16.25 billion spent annually.

Available data now shows that the 400,000 bypass surgeries and 1 million angioplasties (where mesh tubes are place inside diseased arteries to hold them open) performed each year are unnecessary except for about 3 percent of the most severe cases, reports Dr. David D. Waters, chief of Cardiology at San Francisco General Hospital. Cost: $20,000 per bypass surgery; 400,000 operations per year; $8 billion spent annually.

of the uterus (hysterectomy) has been one of the most overdone operations for several decades running. Experts report that up to 75 percent of the 600,000 hysterectomies performed each year may be unnecessary. “The medical establishment puts no value on having a uterus if a woman is no longer having babies,” says gynecologist Michael Broder, who has studied hysterectomy overuse. Cost $8,300 per hysterectomy; 450,000 unnecessary hysterectomies per year; $3.7 billion spent annually.

Sources: Business Week Online, May 29; Forbes.com, Oct. 27, 2003; Science Daily, March 1, 2005; ABC News, Aug. 27, 2004