Health officials announced Thursday that Medicare will also cover lung cancer annual screening in people aged 55 or older. The move is expected to save tens of thousands of lives in the U.S. since lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death in the country.
The decision’s supporters had been heatedly debated over the issue with doctors for years. Health care providers claim that the extremely costly computed tomography scans (CT-scan), which track lung cancer in its early stage, would not be beneficial for many. But both Medicare and the move’s advocates say that the benefits are clear.
Researchers had already proven that the CT-scans, which cost $250-$300 each, may prevent up to 20 percent of future deaths from lung cancer, the prime cancer killer in the U.S. Studies had shown that the lung cancer annual screening may save as many lives as mammograms and colonoscopies save.
This is the first time that Medicare has covered lung cancer screening. This is an important new Medicare preventive benefit since lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States,”
argued Dr. Patrick Conway, chief MO at the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS), which announced the decision.
Medicare plans to cover for a single, low-dose CT-scan a year, for people aged 55-77 who have a smoking history. The Medicare beneficiaries include current smokers, people that quit smoking at least 15 years ago, as well as former smokers that had smoked at least a pack of cigarettes for 30 years and who have a written order from their physician.
Laurie Fenton Ambrose, chief executive of the Lung Cancer Alliance, was very pleased that the decision would save tens of thousands of lives.
We think it’s a transformative moment for our community,”
Ms. Ambrose commented.
According to the American Cancer Society, lung cancer kills almost 160,000 people every passing year. Doctors explained that its high mortality rate is caused by lung cancer’s habit of displaying symptoms when it is already too late for the patient.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) advises heavy smokers to undergo a CT test for lung cancer detection at least once a year after the age of 55. If all follow the recommendation, nearly 9 million American could benefit from the Medicare’s decision.
But the decision won’t come cheap. A research conducted last year estimated that paying for lung cancer CT-scans would cost Medicare $9 billion every five years, or about $3 per patient.
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