Legislation Would Eliminate Financial Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening

A Medicare loophole may deter patients from undergoing preventative screening for colorectal cancer.

More than 140,000 Americans are projected to be diagnosed with colorectal cancer in 2018. Colonoscopies are crucial to the early detection and prevention of colorectal cancer, however, financial barriers may prevent patients from being screened, according to a press release from the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN).

The advocacy organization is urging congress to help make colorectal cancer screening more cost-effective for patients by passing legislation to eliminate cost-sharing, according to the release.

The bill, entitled the “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act,” is sponsored by Sens Sherrod Brown (D-OH) and Roger Wicker (R-MI), and Reps Charlie Dent (R-PA) and Donald Payne (D-NJ).

Although colorectal cancer can be deadly, it is highly treatable when detected early through screening. Colonoscopies allow physicians to locate and resect precancerous polyps before they progress.

Under Medicare, patients receive coverage for the full cost of a routine colonoscopy; however, beneficiaries may bear a financial burden if a polyp is found and removed during the screening. This loophole has already been addressed and patients with private insurance will not be affected, according to the release.

The removal of a polyp can leave Medicare patients with a significant cost-sharing payment of more than $300. Previous studies show that cost sharing inhibits patients from routine screening, according to the release.

“Even though colorectal cancer is preventable, far too many Americans forego screening because of cost,” said Chris Hansen, president, ACS CAN. “By removing financial barriers to screening, Congress can help increase screening rates and reduce the incidence of colorectal cancer.”

The “Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act” would address this loophole in an effort to increase screening rates to at least 80%, according to the release.

“This legislation will help ensure that all seniors have access to lifesaving colorectal cancer screenings, regardless of their ability to pay,” Hansen said. “More seniors getting screened will result in fewer cases of colorectal cancer, less treatment-associated costs and, most importantly, fewer needless deaths from a disease that can be detected and prevented.”

In addition, ACS CAN is asking congress to protect funding for the CDC Colorectal Cancer Prevention Program (CRCCP), which helps more than 700,000 uninsured and underinsured patients from 23 states receive screening. The program, which spends $43 million annually, will be eliminated under the president’s 2019 budget, according to the release.

“Maintaining or increasing funding for the CRCCP program has the potential to significantly improve screening rates and reduce the burden of colorectal cancer for some of the most underserved Americans,” Hansen said. “We urge Congress to restore funding for this important program in the final 2019 budget.”