WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Sens. Ben Cardin (D-MD), Sherrod Brown (D-OH), Roger Wicker (R-MS), and Susan Collins (R-ME) today introduced legislation that would remove barriers to life-saving colorectal cancer screenings and treatment. The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act would revise a Medicare policy that currently charges seniors for colonoscopies when a polyp is removed even though cancer screenings are promoted as a free service under Medicare. The bill would eliminate cost-sharing under Medicare for preventive screening colonoscopies, even if a polyp or tissue is removed. As two-thirds of colorectal cancers occur in Medicare-aged individuals, reducing barriers to screenings will improve care and health outcomes while saving money for both seniors and the Medicare program.
“We know the life- and cost-saving benefits of ensuring Americans have access to quality preventive health care,” said Cardin, a member of the Senate Finance Health Care Subcommittee. “Colonoscopies save lives, and I am proud to join with a bipartisan group of Senators to fix an obvious flaw in our Medicare system. We want more Americans to opt for this highly effective method of colorectal cancer prevention, without worrying about unexpected costs.”
“Preventive care like colonoscopies helps save lives and keep Americans healthy – so we must do everything possible to encourage patients to take advantage of these procedures,” said Brown. “Unfortunately, under current policy – Medicare beneficiaries can be surprised by added costs following a colonoscopy. With a quick fix to current law, we can make sure seniors have truly free access to life-saving colorectal cancer screenings.”
“This bipartisan legislation would ensure that many of America’s seniors are not caught off guard by an unexpected and potentially burdensome medical bill when receiving cancer screenings,” said Wicker. “Removing these hurdles would help save lives and reduce costs.”
“As one of the few cancers that can be completely prevented with proper screening, we must work to ensure that all Americans have access to these life-saving tests,” said Collins. “Removing the financial barriers to screenings will encourage more Americans to be screened and in turn, improve health and save lives.”
Colonoscopies allow for the detection and removal of polyps that could become cancerous, as well as for the early detection of colorectal cancer when treatment can be most effective. Under current law, seniors covered by Medicare are eligible for colorectal cancer screenings without cost sharing. However, if a physician takes a further preventive action – like removing a polyp – during the screening while the patient is under anesthesia, the patient is billed as if the procedure was treatment rather than prevention.
Because there is no way of knowing whether a polyp will be removed during a screening colonoscopy in advance, Medicare beneficiaries do not know whether or not their screening colonoscopy will be fully covered until after the procedure is over. This potential cost could lead to Medicare beneficiaries electing to forgo this important preventive screening, even though colorectal cancer screening is promoted as a service without cost-sharing under Medicare. Under the Affordable Care Act, private insurers cannot impose cost-sharing for a screening that leads to polyp removal, but Medicare can charge fees if a polyp is removed. The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act would correct this discrepancy by waiving cost-sharing under Medicare for preventive colonoscopies, even if a polyp or tissue is removed. U.S. Rep. Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D-NJ-10) introduced a companion bill today in the House of Representatives.
Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death in the United States for both men and women combined. However, when caught early, it is curable and can even be prevented.