Syracuse, N.Y. — Many upstate New Yorkers are getting unnecessary blood tests to measure their vitamin D levels, running up millions of dollars in excessive medical costs, according to Excellus BlueCross BlueShield.
The health insurer reported about 42 percent of the 641,000 upstate residents who got vitamin D tests in 2014 had no medical reason to do so.
Typically only people with conditions such as osteoporosis, kidney and liver disease, malabsorption syndromes, bone disorders and some endocrine conditions are candidates for vitamin D testing, according to Excellus. The insurer said nearly nine of 10 upstate residents have no medical reason to have their Vitamin D levels tested.
Even for people who have medical reasons for testing, the need for testing is questionable because the test results do not necessarily change the treatment, said Dr. Marybeth McCall, an Excellus vice president. “If your doctor suspects a low vitamin D level, taking an over-the-counter supplement or getting more vitamin D from your diet may be sufficient,” McCall said.
Patients and doctors began demanding more Vitamin D tests after research studies linked vitamin D deficiency to many serious conditions like heart disease and cancer. More recent studies have shown that research to be flawed, causing the medical community to question the need for vitamin D testing.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of medical experts that examines the effectiveness of preventive tests, found there is not enough evidence to assess benefits and harms of screening for Vitamin D deficiency in healthy adults.
The average vitamin D test can cost $50, which is typically covered by insurance, according to Excellus. The insurer estimates $33 million was spent on vitamin D testing in upstate New York last year.
The recommended daily vitamin D intake through food and/or supplements is 600 international units for people 70 and younger and 800 international units for those older than 70.
Aside from multivitamins and vitamin D supplements, people can get vitamin D by consuming cod liver oil, salmon and tuna, according to Excellus. Milk, cereal and orange juice are also fortified with vitamin D.