Breast cancer screening for women aged 40-49 years is prevalent and costly, with costs varying substantially across US regions. Newer approaches to mammography may improve cancer detection but also increase screening costs. We assessed factors associated with regional variation in screening costs.
We used Blue Cross Blue Shield Axis, a large US commercial claims database accessed through secure portal, to assess regional variation in screening utilization and costs. We included screening mammography±digital breast tomosynthesis (DBT), screening ultrasound, diagnostic mammography±DBT, diagnostic ultrasound, magnetic resonance imaging and biopsy, and evaluated their utilization and costs. We assessed regional variation in annual per-screened-beneficiary costs and examined potential savings from reducing regional variation.
Of the 2,257,393 privately insured women, 41.2% received screening mammography in 2017 (range: 26.6%-54.2% across regions). Wide regional variation was found in the DBT proportion (0.7%-91.1%) and mean costs of DBT ($299; range: $113-714) and 2-dimensional (D) mammograms ($213; range: $107-471). In one-fourth of the regions, the mean DBT cost was lower than the mean 2D mammography cost in the full sample. Regional variation in the per-screened-beneficiary cost (mean: $353; range: $151-751) was mainly attributable to variation in the cost of DBT (accounting for 23.4% of regional variation) and 2D mammography (23.0%). Reducing regional variation by decreasing the highest values to the national mean was projected to save $79-335 million annually.
The mean mammogram cost for privately insured women ages 40-49 varies 7-fold across regions, driving substantial variation in breast cancer screening costs. Reducing this regional variation would substantially decrease the screening costs.