Doing Better by Doing Less: Approaches to Tackle Overuse of Services

Experts have projected that as much as a third of U.S. health care spending­ is unnecessary and wasteful. One-quarter of the $765 billion of wasted health care dollars in 2009 was spent on overuse of services, which includes services that are provided more frequently than necessary or services that are higher-cost, but no more beneficial than lower-cost alternatives.

This overuse of services has implications for both health care costs and outcomes. There is substantial variation in the level of inappropriate use across different health care services. Research shows that the rates at which particular procedures, tests, and medications were performed or prescribed when clinically inappropriate ranged from a low of 1 percent to a high of 89 percent. 

This Quick Strike Series brief, published online in January 2013 by the Urban Institute with support from RWJF, examines the ways in which unnecessary services drive up health care spending and various policy approaches to solving the problem.