Obstructive sleep apnea affects around 20 million Americans and can lead to hypertension, heart attack, stroke, depression, muscle pain, fibromyalgia, morning headaches, and excessive daytime sleepiness.

Monday, January 16, 2012

Increased Sleep Apnea Awareness, Testing brings Rise in Insurance Spending

As awareness about the symptoms and risks of sleep apnea—particularly obstructive sleep apnea (OSA)—have increased, so has insurer spending on diagnosis and treatment.

According to a Jan. 16 National Public Radio (NPR) report that cites information from the Office of the Inspector General, Medicare payments for sleep testing skyrocketed from $62 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2009. Meanwhile, the number of accredited sleep disorder diagnosis labs has quadrupled over the past 10 years, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine.

While many health insurance policies cover sleep apnea testing and treatment, some insurers have expressed concern that a number of physicians are ordering sleep testing without basic exams first.

“We are spending more and more money on sleep testing and treatment, and like anything else in health care, there are unscrupulous people out there who are more than happy to do testing and treatment that might be of questionable value,” said Dr. Fred Holt, medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Carolina, in the NPR report.

Although insurance providers may not be happy about the rise in sometimes costly sleep apnea testing, sleep apnea can contribute to severe health complications if not treated. Among the potential dangers of sleep apnea are an increased risk for hypertension, heart disease, stroke, heart attack, diabetes, high blood pressure and depression among other health problems.

The National Institutes of Health currently estimates that more than 12 million Americans have a diagnosed form of sleep apnea, with millions of more Americans suffering from undiagnosed sleep apnea. The sheer volume of people who may have this dangerous sleep disorder is why many physicians who specialize in sleep apnea believe the costs are worth the tests necessary to diagnose the disorder and save lives.

“It’s just sad when you walk through the hospital and you see these patients with heart failure—the person might be 35 years old, he’s 350 pounds—but no one’s thinking that he has sleep apnea, which he statistically does,” said Dr. David Gross, medical director of the sleep lab at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., in the NPR story.

Fortunately, there are a number of effective sleep apnea treatment options.

If you believe you or a loved one suffer from the symptoms of sleep apnea, please contact a dentist near you who specializes in diagnosing and treating OSA and other sleep disorders.

posted by Steve at 8:35 AM