Colon Cancer Alliance, ACR urge Medicare to cover virtual colonoscopy

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The Colon Cancer Alliance and American College of Radiology (ACR) have called on Medicare to cover seniors for virtual colonoscopy (CT colonography). The organizations cited the publication of the largest study of the efficacy of virtual colonoscopy in adults aged 65 and older published online Feb. 23 in Radiology.

The study confirmed that the virtual exam provided comparable effectiveness to standard colonoscopy at detecting colorectal cancer and precancerous polyps in older seniors. The groups also referred to a 2008 study in the New England Journal of Medicine involving patients ages 50 and older, and a multitude of trials with similar positive outcomes.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention estimate that up to 30,000 colorectal cancer deaths each year could be prevented if all those age 50 and older were screened regularly. However, roughly one-third of those who should be screened for colorectal cancer never get tested. This is particularly true among minorities where screening rates are much lower. Studies at National Naval Medical Center facilities in Bethesda, Md., and San Diego have shown that availability of the virtual exam significantly boosted colorectal cancer screening rates—a vital step to saving more lives, according to the organizations.

“The minimal invasiveness and lower cost of CT colonography can attract more seniors to be screened if Medicare will cover them for the exam. Many seniors, who might not get tested otherwise, can’t afford the added cost of paying for the exam themselves and may ultimately pay with their lives if Medicare does not provide coverage,” said Andrew Spiegel, Colon Cancer Alliance CEO.

“CT colonography is endorsed by the American Cancer Society as a recommended screening test. The Blue Cross Blue Shield Association Technology Evaluation Center (TEC) named virtual colonoscopy an effective screening tool. CIGNA, UnitedHealthcare, Anthem Blue Cross Blue Shield and other insurers cover screening virtual colonoscopy. Yet, Medicare refuses to cover seniors for this life-saving exam. All the while, thousands die needlessly each year from a disease that is nearly always treatable when caught early. This must change,” said Judy Yee, MD, chair of the ACR colon cancer committee.