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Health Services Research: Payer Type and Low‐Value Care: Comparing Choosing Wisely Services across Commercial and Medicare Populations


Objective: To compare low‐value health service use among commercially insured and Medicare populations and explore the influence of payer type on the provision of low‐value care.​

Data Sources: 2009–2011 national Medicare and commercial insurance administrative data.

Design: We created claims‐based algorithms to measure seven Choosing Wisely‐identified low‐value services and examined the correlation between commercial and Medicare overuse overall and at the regional level. Regression models explored associations between overuse and regional characteristics.

Methods: We created measures of early imaging for back pain, vitamin D screening, cervical cancer screening over age 65, prescription opioid use for migraines, cardiac testing in asymptomatic patients, short‐interval repeat bone densitometry (DXA), preoperative cardiac testing for low‐risk surgery, and a composite of these.

Principal Findings: Prevalence of four services was similar across the insurance‐defined groups. Regional correlation between Medicare and commercial overuse was high (correlation coefficient = 0.540–0.905) for all measures. In both groups, similar region‐level factors were associated with low‐value care provision, especially total Medicare spending and ratio of specialists to primary care physicians.

Conclusions: Low‐value care appears driven by factors unrelated to payer type or anticipated reimbursement. These findings suggest the influence of local practice patterns on care without meaningful discrimination by payer type.

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