By Tom Curry National affairs writer
msnbc.com
updated 9/9/2009 8:36:27 PM ET 2009-09-10T00:36:27

Claim: More use of preventive care would reduce federal health care expenditures.

President Obama said in his speech to Congress Wednesday night, "there’s no reason we shouldn’t be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse.  That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives." Preventive care can detect diseases at an early stage when they might be treated more easily and at lower cost. The Democrats’ health care bills include full taxpayer funding of preventive services instead of requiring patients to pay a share of the costs. There's no doubt preventive care can save lives, but opinions vary on cost savings.

Fact or fiction?
Fiction. More use of preventive services "leads to higher, not lower, medical spending overall," said a report from the non-partisan Congressional Budget Office last month. Preventive care may reduce an individual's long-term costs, CBO said, but "doctors do not know beforehand which patients are going to develop costly illnesses" and therefore they must "provide preventive care to many patients, most of whom would not have suffered that illness anyway." A New England Journal of Medicine study found that fewer than 20 percent of preventive care services save money; the rest add to costs. But CBO said much preventive care "provides clinical benefits that justify those added costs."

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