Medical guidelines recommend that older patients receive the colon cancer screening once every 10 years. However, nearly half of the Medicare patients in the study received a colonoscopy within seven years of getting normal results from a previous exam.
Furthermore, while most patients 80 years and up no longer require a colonoscopy, one-third of patients in the study over the age of 80 received an exam. For those over 85, the risks involved in receiving a colonoscopy outweigh the benefits and are not recommended. An unnecessary colonoscopy of such a patient might actually do harm.
The cost of a colonoscopy typically runs $1,000 or more. Currently Medicare rules state that the program will not pay for excessive colonoscopies, however, a tiny fraction–a mere 2 percent–of claims submitted for patients without any symptoms was denied. Of the patients who received the repeated colonoscopies, only 27 percent showed symptoms suggestive of cancer.