Friday, 31 March 2023

Bill helps more seniors prevent cancer

WASHINGTON On Thursday, Reps. Mike Thompson (D-CA) and Jim Ramstad (R-MN) introduced legislation to improve beneficiary access to Medicare's cancer screening services.

The Medicare Early Detection of Cancer Promotion Act will waive co-pays for colonoscopy and mammography services and extend the eligibility period for the "Welcome to Medicare" visit from the current time frame of six months to one year.

"The vast majority of cancer diagnoses and deaths happen to older Americans, so we should be making it as easy as possible for seniors to get regular cancer screenings," said Thompson.

Sixty percent of new cancer diagnoses and 70 percent of cancer deaths occur in people over 65. "Co-pays for these services create a barrier to care," added Thompson. "If we eliminate the co-pays, more seniors will get screened, saving lives and money."

"Nearly 100,000 Americans will die this year from colorectal and breast cancer, yet many of these deaths could have been prevented" said Ramstad. "By passing the Medicare Early Detection of Cancer Promotion Act, we can expand access to life-saving colonoscopy and mammography services, services that are truly the first line of defense in preventing cancer deaths."

Currently, beneficiaries pay no coinsurance for most cancer screening services covered by Medicare, but they must pay a 20 percent co-pay for colonoscopy and mammography services.

This legislation will eliminate co-pays for mammograms and colonoscopies, prompting more seniors to utilize these live-saving services.

In addition to saving lives, promoting cancer prevention also saves Medicare and the American taxpayer money.

Preventive services cost considerably less than caring for people with cancer. For example, Medicare pays between $200 and $400 for a colonoscopy but if colon cancer metastasizes, total costs of care can exceed $58,000 per patient.

The efficacy of cancer prevention screening is clear. When caught in the first stages, the five-year survival rate for breast cancer is 98 percent and the five year survival rate for colorectal cancer is 90 percent.

However, if these cancers move into more advanced stages, the survival rates are only 26 percent for breast cancer and 10 percent for colorectal cancer.

This legislation will also increase the number of seniors who seek cancer prevention services by extending the "Welcome to Medicare" period. During these physicals, Medicare beneficiaries can take advantage of certain screening and preventive health services and learn about others.

Currently, fewer than 5 percent of new beneficiaries are seeking appointments for the "Welcome to Medicare" visit, and extending the eligibility period means that more people will be able to benefit from it.

Thompson and Ramstad are both members of the Ways & Means Health Subcommittee.


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