I recently came across an interesting article on the explosion of sleep centers across the United States. According to this article, the number of sleep studies in the US has quadrupled over the past ten years (!)
Why are sleep centers spreading like a virus (pun intended 🙂 Well, according to an article on KaiserHealthNews.org, it’s because charging for sleep studies is darn lucrative. Here’s a quote from the article:
“Over the past decade, the number of accredited sleep labs that test for the disorder has quadrupled, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine (AASM). At the same time, insurer spending on the procedure has skyrocketed. Medicare payments for sleep testing, for example, increased from $62 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2009, according to the Office of the Inspector General.”
The article goes on to say that a typical night at a sleep study costs $1,900, and some patients end up spending two nights in the lab – one to test for sleep apnea, and another to try a night sleeping with CPAP equipment.
But the problem is over-prescription of sleep studies. Apparently a lot of patients are going straight to an overnight sleep study, when they could be doing an at-home sleep apnea test first.
It doesn’t help that some doctors are getting into the sleep study business, so they can increase their revenues. Here’s what Dr. Fred Holt of Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Carolina has to say:
“We are spending more and more money on sleep testing and treatment, and like anything else in health care, there are unscrupulous people out there who are more than happy to do testing and treatment that might be of questionable value,” says Holt. “This might be because of naiveté on the part of the physician, or unfortunately, it could be done for the sake of improving the cash flow of one’s business.”
The unfortunate thing is that at-home sleep apnea tests are being neglected in favor of the more-expensive sleep studies, even though at-home tests are becoming more sophisticated and effective in detecting sleep apnea. In fact, according to a recent issue of the scientific journal CHEST, home testing for sleep apnea might eliminate the need for an overnight sleep study. Here’s a quote from the article:
“With advances in technology and the development of portable monitors, home testing for sleep-related breathing disorders is now feasible and circumvents many of the limitations of an attended in-laboratory polysomnogram. In fact, in 2007, the US Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services approved the use of portable monitoring for OSA, thereby increasing the means for diagnosing the disorder and potentially shortening the lead time for starting positive pressure therapy for many patients”
What do you think? Are sleep apnea sufferers being gouged by the healthcare industry?