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Costly Heart Test Could Save Medicare Money

Cardiac screen spots those who need a defibrillator, study says

WEDNESDAY, March 15, 2006 (HealthDay News) -- It's not currently covered by Medicare, but a $400 test used to spot people who might need an implanted cardiac defibrillator might end up saving the agency hundreds of millions of dollars a year, researchers report.

The finding comes about a week before Medicare announces whether or not it will cover the cost of the microvolt T-wave alternans (MTWA) test, which detects small variations in the electrical impulses in the heart.

A team at the University of Michigan Health System used a computer model to calculate the potential impact of using the MTWA test to help determine which patients are at greatest risk from sudden cardiac death. Those patients would benefit most from an implanted cardiac defibrillator (ICD), which automatically restarts a stopped heart.

The researchers, who have no links to the makers of the MTWA test, concluded that using the screen could save Medicare $690 million a year. Last year, Medicare extended its coverage of ICDs to include many more heart patients -- right now, an estimated 500,000 people over age 65 are candidates.

"ICDs have been shown in several studies to be cost-effective, which means the cost is considered acceptable given the benefit to patients," study lead author and cardiology fellow Dr. Paul Chan said in a prepared statement.

"But a very expensive device can be cost-effective and still not affordable to society, if the condition it treats is highly prevalent. Our study demonstrates the potential impact of using additional factors to aid decisions about the use of expensive devices," Chan said.

The findings were presented this week at the annual meeting of the American College of Cardiology, in Atlanta.

More information

The American Academy of Family Physicians has more about ICDs.

SOURCE: University of Michigan Health System, news release, March 13, 2006
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