Snoring was once considered a simple annoyance for bed partners, but there is a growing awareness in the medical community that the grunts and snorts of noisy sleepers can also be a sign of sleep apnea.

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. David Gross, medical director of the sleep lab at the National Rehabilitation Hospital in Washington, D.C., says more than three-quarters of the patients who come to his lab are diagnosed with sleep apnea. “We are spending more and more money on sleep testing and treatment,” he says.

It’s no secret that the sleep business can be lucrative for physicians. While many sleep centers offer comprehensive care for sleep disorders, others are largely focused on overnight sleep testing, according to Dr. Nancy Collop, president of the academy. “A lot of people have gotten into the sleep business specifically to do that procedure,” she says.

Another option is a home sleep test, which costs less than a fifth as much as a lab test, and is considered effective for most patients. Medicare began paying for home sleep tests in 2008, but the tests have had only modest growth.

Some insurers, including WellPoint, are changing the way they pay for sleep testing to curb the costs. ┬áThose changes are now widespread among Massachusetts insurers and are having an effect on the sleep industry in the state. [ Read Complete Post … ]

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