We evaluated the prevalence and geographic variation of short-interval (repeated in under 2 years) dual-energy X-ray absorptiometry tests (DXAs) among Medicare beneficiaries. Short-interval DXA use varied across regions (coefficient of variation = 0.64), and unlike other DXAs, rates decreased with payment cuts.
Introduction: The American College of Rheumatology, through the Choosing Wisely initiative, identified measuring bone density more often than every 2 years as care "physicians and patients should question." We measured the prevalence and described the geographic variation of short-interval (repeated in under 2 years) DXAs among Medicare beneficiaries and estimated the cost of this testing and its responsiveness to payment change.
Methods: Using 100 % Medicare claims data, 2006-2011, we identified DXAs and short-interval DXAs for female Medicare beneficiaries over age 66. We determined the population rate of DXAs and short-interval DXAs, as well as Medicare spending on short-interval DXAs, nationally and by hospital referral region (HRR).
Results: DXA use was stable 2008-2011 (12.4 to 11.5 DXAs per 100 women). DXA use varied across HRRs: in 2011, overall DXA use ranged from 6.3 to 23.0 per 100 women (coefficient of variation = 0.18), and short-interval DXAs ranged from 0.3 to 8.0 per 100 women (coefficient of variation = 0.64). Short-interval DXA use fluctuated substantially with payment changes; other DXAs did not. Short-interval DXAs, which represented 10.1 % of all DXAs, cost Medicare approximately US$16 million in 2011.
Conclusions: One out of ten DXAs was administered in a time frame shorter than recommended and at a substantial cost to Medicare. DXA use varied across regions. Short-interval DXA use was responsive to reimbursement changes, suggesting carefully designed policy and payment reform may reduce this care identified by rheumatologists as low value.