Senate Passes Medicare Legislation Critical to Improving Access to Cancer Prevention and Early Detection Services for Seniors

July 9, 2008

WASHINGTON -- July 9, 2008 -- The U.S. Senate today passed legislation containing provisions that would help improve access to cancer prevention and early detection services for Medicare beneficiaries.  The Medicare Improvements for Patients and Providers Act of 2008 (H.R.6331) would extend the availability of the “Welcome to Medicare” visit for new beneficiaries from six months to one year, as well as waive the deductible for the visit, which serves as a gateway for doctors to recommend patients for screening tests.

It would also allow new cancer prevention and early detection screening tests to be covered by Medicare without first obtaining Congressional approval, more readily providing seniors with access to preventive screenings and services as new methods are developed. However, the bill does not include a provision that would remove the Medicare cost sharing requirements for preventive benefits.

“We know that access to prevention and early detection services is essential to winning the war against cancer. Yet, a number of factors, including out-of-pocket costs and lack of awareness, have prevented many Medicare beneficiaries from using these covered services,” said Laura J. Hilderley, RN, MS, volunteer chair of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) board. “We thank the Senate for its support on this important issue.”

The Senate vote comes a few weeks after the House overwhelmingly passed the legislation.  Enactment of the bill is a priority for ACS CAN, which will be working to encourage President Bush to sign the bill into law once it reaches his desk.

“Today’s action by the Senate is a move in the right direction in eliminating barriers to access for seniors,” said ACS CAN president Daniel E. Smith. “While we applaud the passage of this bill, we are disappointed that Congress did not remove out-of-pocket co-pays for Medicare prevention and early detection services such as cancer screenings, especially when studies show that cost sharing can deter seniors from using them.  We will continue to push for the removal of this financial obstacle. Still, this bill represents a valuable step forward in improving access to care for Medicare beneficiaries and we urge President Bush to sign it into law.”

Cancer disproportionately affects the elderly. “The Welcome to Medicare” visit, offered on a one-time “use it or lose it” basis, can help reduce cancer incidence and mortality by enabling new Medicare beneficiaries to have a visit with a physician to discuss their health history, learn more about preventative health services and schedule screenings already covered by Medicare, including those for breast, cervical and colon cancer. The American Cancer Society, ACS CAN’s nonprofit charitable partner organization, along with the American Diabetes Association and the American Heart Association, pushed for the inclusion of this benefit in the Medicare Modernization Act. The benefit became available on January 1, 2005.  By extending the time period for this benefit and waiving a portion of the out-of-pocket cost, the legislation will enable more eligible seniors to use it.

The bill would also give the Secretary of Health and Human Services the authority to consider evidence-based recommendations by the United States Preventive Services Task Force to add prevention and early detection screening tests to Medicare once they have been appropriately tested and approved.  This will provide beneficiaries with increased access to the full range of available screening tests in a timely fashion.

ACS CAN, the nonprofit, nonpartisan advocacy partner of the American Cancer Society, supports evidence-based policy and legislative solutions designed to eliminate cancer as a major health problem.  ACS CAN works to encourage elected officials and candidates to make cancer a top national priority. ACS CAN gives ordinary people extraordinary power to fight cancer with the training and tools they need to make their voices heard. For more information, visit

Trista Hargrove
Phone: (202) 585-3221
Email: [email protected]

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