FRIDAY, July 31, 2020 — A study has failed to show that brain scans to check for Alzheimer’s disease save health care costs for Medicare, the Associated Press reported Thursday.
The finding is from a $100 million study involving more than 25,000 Medicare patients.
Those who support Medicare coverage for the scans hope to show that they are beneficial even if they don’t save money.
Diagnosing the disease can help families plan for the future even though there is no effective treatment or cure for Alzheimer’s, researcher Dr. Gil Rabinovici of the University of California, San Francisco, told the AP.
A spokesman for the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services told the AP that the agency looks at all data on risks and benefits. A formal request would have to be filed for the agency to reconsider its 2013 decision to not cover the scans except for research and in special circumstances.
More than 5 million Americans have Alzheimer’s, which can only be diagnosed after death.
PET brain can detect signs when patients are alive, but they cost $4,000 to $5,000 and insurers won’t cover them because it’s not known if they benefit patients.
For the study, nearly 12,700 people with dementia or mild cognitive impairment, were given scans and compared with Medicare patients not given scans.
Results from the first 4,000 participants suggested the scans diagnosed Alzheimer’s and altered counseling or care in up to 60% of cases.
The study looked at whether the scans save money by decreasing hospitalizations and emergency room visits. The theory was that if a scan identifies that someone has Alzheimer’s, caregivers can help prevent problems like patients not taking their medications.
But the goal of lowering hospitalizations by 10% in the year after the scan wasn’t met. Rates of hospitalizations were 24% among patients scanned and 25% among those who weren’t.
Among those scanned, however, fewer hospitalizations occurred for those with Alzheimer’s, the AP reports.
Maria Carrillo, the Alzheimer’s Association’s chief science officer, told the AP that these findings suggest that caregivers “weren’t panicking” when symptoms of Alzheimer’s appeared and didn’t rush to the hospital.
The results of the study were scheduled to be presented July 30 at the online Alzheimer’s Association International Conference.
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