Medicare's bill for artificial feet rose nearly 60 percent in recent years, although foot and leg amputations due to diabetes continued a dramatic decline. For example, Medicare has started covering a computer-controlled ankle/foot that costs $15,000, about as much as a compact car. Some major private insurers still consider it experimental and do not routinely cover it.
Several doctors were surprised by the findings. "The data are surprising because of the large increase over a short period of time," said Dr. David Armstrong, a professor of surgery at the University of Arizona and diabetes expert who directs the Southern Arizona Limb Salvage Alliance. Armstrong wonders if the dazzle of technology is the issue for some practitioners. "They can lose the forest for the trees and focus more on a high-end device because it's high-end, rather than specifically on function for the patient," he said.