Overnight Sleep testing can be a lucrative business, and labs have popped up in free-standing clinics and hospitals across the country. Over the past decade, the number of accredited sleep labs that test for the disorder has quadrupled, according to the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. At the same time, insurer spending on the procedure has skyrocketed. Medicare payments for sleep testing increased from $62 million in 2001 to $235 million in 2009, according to the Office of the Inspector General.
Dr. Fred Holt, an expert on fraud and abuse and a medical director of Blue Cross Blue Shield in North Carolina, says some patients aren’t having basic exams done first and are therefore being prescribed expensive tests they don’t need. Not everyone who snores has a chronic disorder, he says. In other cases, Holt says, the labs prescribe CPAP machines right away without first suggesting other strategies that could reduce apnea, such as losing weight or sleeping on your side.
While many sleep centers offer comprehensive care for sleep disorders, others are largely focused on overnight sleep testing, according to Nancy Collop M.D., president of the American Academy of Sleep Medicine. “A lot of people have gotten into the sleep business specifically to do that procedure,” she says. The goal of the academy’s accreditation process, she says, is to make sure sleep labs are offering more, because “many patients may not even need a sleep study.”