Press Release

April 19, 2007

Sen. Benjamin L. Cardin (D-MD) today introduced the
Colon Cancer Screen for Life Act in order to remove some of the barriers that too often stand in the way of patients receiving lifesaving screening for colon cancer. Joining Sen. Cardin as original co-sponsors are
Senators Joe Lieberman (I-CT), Susan Collins (R-ME), Ben Nelson (D-NE), and Lindsey Graham (R-SC).

“It is always tragic when a life is lost to cancer, but it is perhaps even more tragic when that loss could have been prevented,” said Sen. Cardin. “Modern technology has given us the tools to save lives, but we must ensure that people have access to these life-saving services. This bill not only increases access to colon cancer screenings for millions of Americans, but will also save the Medicare system millions of dollars that would otherwise be spent on treating late-stage colon cancer.”

This bipartisan bill would restore reimbursement for colorectal cancer (CRC) screening and diagnostic tests closer to the level established by Medicare in 1997 when the screening benefit was enacted. Payment rates for this procedure have decreased by more than 33 percent since Congress enacted this life-saving benefit. It would also clarify that CRC screening procedures are exempt from the customary Medicare deductible requirement regardless of the outcome of the screening, and provide Medicare coverage for a preoperative visit or consultation prior to a screening colonoscopy.

“Colon cancer affects millions of Americans,” said Sen. Lieberman. “It is the second most common cause of cancer-related death in America. The key to defeating this disease is by detecting it early. Therefore, we are introducing this bill to remove any barriers our seniors face in obtaining the early prevention and screening services they need.”

“Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States for both men and women,” said Sen. Collins. “The sad irony is that cancer of the colon is probably the most treatable and survivable of all cancers, but only if it is caught early. I am therefore pleased to join my colleagues in introducing this legislation which will not only help to ensure the safety of colorectal cancer screenings, but it will also increase Medicare patient's access to this life-saving procedure.”

“One of the major problems with Medicare, and health care in general, is we focus too much on treatment and not enough on early detection and prevention,” said Sen. Graham. “Colon cancer is a perfect example of a disease where early detection could save lives and also save money on medical care. I want to thank Senators Cardin, Collins and Lieberman for their leadership on this issue. I hope this bill will set an example for future improvements in health care delivery.”

Colon cancer is the third most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women and the second most common cause of cancer-related death in the United States. It is also perhaps the only cancer that can be prevented through regular screening. In 1997, then-Rep. Cardin authored legislation to establish the colorectal screening benefit under Medicare. However, recent studies show that patients are not fully utilizing coverage of CRC preventive screenings. According to the Government Accountability Office (GAO), since the implementation of the benefit in 1998, the percentage of Medicare beneficiaries receiving either a screening or a diagnostic colonoscopy has increased by only one percent.

“As physicians, we are trained to do everything we can to save lives. Regular screening via colonoscopy can prevent colon cancer or help doctors to diagnose it at an early stage when it can be most effectively treated. Too many people are not taking advantage of this lifesaving measure,” said David Johnson, M.D., President of the American College of Gastroenterology. v “We applaud these Senators for their leadership in introducing the Colon Cancer Screen for Life Act. It is an important first step toward giving patients the tools they need to fight against this deadly disease,” said Maryland physician William Stern, M.D.

The Colon Cancer Screen for Life Act has been endorsed by the Digestive Disease National Coalition, which has more than 20 member organizations, including the American College of Gastroenterology and the Crohn's and Colitis Foundation of America.