Coronary stenting is, by some measures, the most overused procedure in hospitals. The problem costs the health system millions and unnecessarily exposes patients to risks of blood clots, torn arteries, infections, and other life-threatening injuries.
In 2020, Medicare started paying physicians to place stents, balloons, and perform other procedures designed to open clogged coronary arteries outside of hospitals, in less expensive outpatient settings. It didn’t take long for private equity firms to catch on. They’ve been racing to buy up cardiology practices ever since, rolling them into bigger and bigger chains with an eye toward reselling them at a profit.
It’s similar to what happened with orthopedics and gastroenterology, two specialties that have become saturated with private equity money since more procedures went outpatient. Research in other specialties has shown that these financial investors tend to usher in more patients, ramp up surgeries, and jack up prices, effectively increasing spending even as government policies try to lower it. Now, experts say they fear the same thing could happen in cardiology, a field with a long track record of overuse.