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Medicare Part B spent $9.3 billion on lab tests in 2021, recently report by the Office of Inspector General (OIG). This represents a 17% increase from 2020, when spending was $8 billion.

The OIG conducted this study by analyzing claims data for laboratory tests performed in 2021 and paid by the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services under the clinical laboratory fee schedule.

The 17 percent increase is the largest jump since the OIG began tracking lab spending in 2014. The increase was driven by higher volume for three types of tests: Covid-19 tests, genetic tests and chemical tests.

Medicare Part B spent $2 billion on Covid-19 tests in 2021, a 29% increase from 2020. More than 10 million enrollees received at least one Covid-19 test that Medicare Part B paid for.

“The Covid-19 pandemic continued to impact Medicare Part B spending on laboratory tests,” the report said. “Spending on Covid-19 testing increased in 2021, driven by more people getting more tests.”

However, this increase in spending on Covid-19 testing may not have continued into 2022.

“Looking forward to 2022, it is likely that the increased availability of at-home Covid-19 testing will affect total Medicare Part B spending for laboratory-performed testing,” the OIG said.

In addition, spending on four types of genetic testing rose 56% to $1.9 billion in 2021, compared to $1.2 billion in 2020. This exceeds even pre-pandemic levels: in 2019, spending on genetic testing were $1.5 billion.

Chemistry test costs have also increased. In 2021, Medicare Part B spent $2.1 billion on chemistry tests, a nearly 11% increase over 2020’s $1.9 billion. However, this is below pre-pandemic levels. In 2019, Medicare Part B spent $2.4 billion on chemistry tests. This has some troubling implications, the OIG said.

“The second consecutive year of low volume for chemistry tests raises questions about the long-term impact of the pandemic on the health of Medicare enrollees,” the report said. “Although the volume has increased from 2020 to 2021, it has not fully returned to pre-pandemic levels, which may mean that people are not seeking routine or preventive examinations where these tests are ordered. Research shows that delaying such tests can have long-lasting effects on people’s health.

The first 25 tests cost Medicare Part B $5.5 billion, or 59% of total Medicare Part B spending on laboratory tests in 2021, the report found.

Photo: Julia_Sudnitskaya, Getty Images

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