Colorectal cancer remains the second leading cause of cancer death for men and women combined in our country – a fact that’s difficult to accept given that it’s one of a limited number of cancers that can be prevented through screening.
Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month Begins with Reintroduction of Medicare Loophole Bill
March is Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, which gives us an opportunity to bring attention to one of the few cancers that can be completely prevented through screening. Not only have we discovered better and more effective treatments for colorectal cancer in the last few decades, but we’ve made significant progress in preventing the disease in the first place.
Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women and the second leading cause of cancer death in the U.S. This year, more than 135,000 people will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and an estimated 50,000 will die from the disease. Of those diagnosed this year, more than half will be seniors on Medicare.
Currently, Medicare covers the full cost of routine colonoscopies, a screening and prevention tool used to find and remove precancerous polyps before they turn into cancer. However, due to a glitch in Medicare, if a polyp is found and removed during a screening colonoscopy, the procedure is deemed to be diagnostic and the patient is responsible for what can be a pricey bill of more than $300. The same is not true for privately insured individuals who are guaranteed no cost-sharing for preventative services regardless if a polyp is found and removed.
Research shows that any cost-sharing can be a deterrent to screening for colorectal cancer especially for low-income seniors on Medicare who oftentimes must make choices between appropriate health care and food or other costs. Skipping these screenings could mean a person receives a later-stage colorectal cancer diagnosis that can often be more expensive to treat and harder to survive.
ACS CAN is working with lawmakers on Capitol Hill to close this loophole and ensure that all seniors on Medicare have access to lifesaving colorectal cancer screenings, regardless of their ability to pay. Today, the “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act” (H.R. 1017 and S. 479) was reintroduced in Congress. This bipartisan legislation would ensure seniors have the same access to colorectal cancer screening as those with private insurance.
I want to thank the bill sponsors: Representatives Charlie Dent (R-Pa.), Donald Payne (D-N.J.), and Leonard Lance (R-N.J.), and Senators Sherrod Brown (D-Ohio), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), Benjamin Cardin (D-Md.), and Susan Collins (R-Maine) for taking a crucial first step to lifting the financial burden for seniors on Medicare trying to access lifesaving screenings.
We know that more seniors getting appropriately screened will result in fewer cases of colorectal cancer, reduced treatment costs and most importantly, fewer needless deaths from a disease that is easily detected and prevented.
Last Congress, 289 cosponsors in the House and 40 cosponsors in the Senate supported this legislation. I encourage all members of the new Congress to stand up for seniors by signing onto the bill this year. ACS CAN staff and volunteers stand ready to work with lawmakers to remove the obstacles that prevent Americans from getting tested for one of the most preventable cancers.