The Huge Amount of Waste in the U.S. Health System

The following originally appeared on The Upshot (copyright 2019, The New York Times Company). It also appeared on page B4 of the print edition on October 8, 2019.

Even a divided America can agree on this goal: a health system that is cheaper but doesn’t sacrifice quality. In other words, just get rid of the waste.

A new study, published this morning in JAMA, finds that roughly 20 percent to 25 percent of American health care spending is wasteful. It’s a startling number but not a new finding. What is surprising is how little we know about how to prevent it.

William Shrank, a physician who is chief medical officer of the health insurer Humana and the lead author of the study, said, “One contribution of our study is that we show that we have good evidence on how to eliminate some kinds of waste, but not all of it.”

Following the best available evidence, as reviewed in the study, would eliminate only one-quarter of the waste — reducing health spending by about 5 percent.

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