Context: The frequency with which anesthesiologists or nurse anesthetists provide sedation for gastrointestinal endoscopies, especially for low-risk patients, is poorly understood and controversial.
Objective: To quantify temporal comparisons and regional variation in the use of and payment for gastroenterology anesthesia services.
Design, setting, and patients: A retrospective analysis of claims data for a 5% representative sample of Medicare fee-for-service patients (1.1 million adults) and a sample of 5.5 million commercially insured patients between 2003 and 2009.
Main outcome measures: Total number of upper gastrointestinal endoscopies and colonoscopies, proportion of gastroenterology procedures with associated anesthesia claims, payments for gastroenterology anesthesia services, and proportion of services and spending for gastroenterology anesthesia delivered to low-risk patients (American Society of Anesthesiologists physical status class 1 or 2).
Results: The number of gastroenterology procedures per million enrollees remained largely unchanged in Medicare patients (mean, 136,718 procedures), but increased more than 50% in commercially insured patients (from 33,599 in 2003 to 50,816 in 2009). In both populations, the proportion of procedures using anesthesia services increased from approximately 14% in 2003 to more than 30% in 2009, and more than two-thirds of anesthesia services were delivered to low-risk patients. There was substantial regional variation in the proportion of procedures using anesthesia services in both populations (ranging from 13% in the West to 59% in the Northeast). Payments for gastroenterology anesthesia services doubled in Medicare patients and quadrupled in commercially insured patients.
Conclusions: Between 2003 and 2009, utilization of anesthesia services during gastroenterology procedures increased substantially. Anesthesia services are predominantly used in low-risk patients and show considerable regional variation.