Vitamin D tests often unnecessary, Univera analysis finds – Buffalo News
An analysis by Univera Healthcare suggests health care providers and patients often seek to have vitamin D levels tested for no medical reason, raising the question of whether about $15 million was needlessly spent in upstate New York on such tests last year.
Last year, 641,000 upstate New Yorkers had their vitamin D levels tested, and about 42 percent did so without a medical indication for it, according to the health insurer. Typically, only people with certain conditions – including osteoporosis, kidney and liver disease, malabsorption syndromes, bone disorders and certain endocrine conditions – are candidates for testing. Older adults and some pregnant or lactating women also can expect recommended testing.
“Even with a medical indication to test for vitamin D deficiency, it’s valid to question the need for the test, because the outcome won’t necessarily change the treatment,” Dr. Matthew Bartels, Univera medical director for health care improvement, said in a news release. “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.”
Widespread testing is associated with potentially unnecessary treatments with supplements, retesting and increased medical costs, according to the insurer. On average, a vitamin D deficiency test can cost $50, typically covered by health insurance. An estimated $33 million was spent on vitamin D testing upstate last year, according to a Univera Healthcare infographic, “Vitamin D Tests,” which can be found online at bit.ly/1NFY5dr. High-dose, prescription-strength vitamin D supplements may have an out-of-pocket cost for the patients.
Vitamin D is essential. It helps our bodies absorb calcium, which keeps our bones and muscles – including the heart – healthy and strong. Bartels noted that the recommended daily intake through food and/or supplements is 600 international units for those 70 years and younger and 800 international units for those older than age 70. “To ensure that you actually consume the recommended amount, it may not hurt to take a multivitamin or vitamin D supplement,” he said.
The Univera Healthcare infographic also lists cod liver oil, salmon and tuna as foods high in vitamin D. Other, more commonly consumed foods, such as milk, cereal and orange juice, are fortified with vitamin D.
Our bodies also can produce all of the vitamin D we need throughout the year by getting 5 to 30 minutes of sun twice a week during the spring, summer and fall, though the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force doesn’t recommend sun exposure as a way to boost such levels, because it increases the risk for skin cancer.