Virtual colonoscopy advocates rally on Capitol Hill, call for reimbursement

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At a Capitol Hill briefing earler this week, colorectal screening experts said that Medicare should reimburse physicians for CT colonography (CTC) so that seniors have access to the minimally invasive screening test for detecting and preventing colorectal cancer.

In February, the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) proposed a coverage decision to deny reimbursement for CTC, or virtual colonoscopy. The comment period ends March 13.

"Virtual colonoscopies, which are less invasive than traditional colonoscopies, but very effective in detecting polyps and cancers, can be a more appealing option for elderly patients who might otherwise decline screening," said Andrew Spiegel, CEO of Colon Cancer Alliance. "Without access to alternative methods of testing, many seniors will make the detrimental decision to forgo screening...Medicare should cover CTC screenings."

The speakers discussed the barriers that prevent increased colon cancer screening rates, especially among seniors, non-white and low-income populations. They also focused on the importance of increasing colon cancer screenings and highlighted important technologies that aid in the detection of colon cancer, including virtual colonoscopy, according to the Medical Imaging & Technology Alliance (MITA). 

"When used appropriately, virtual colonoscopy saves lives and money by increasing screening and early detection," said Ilyse Schuman, managing director of MITA.

The briefing not only focused on the pending CMS coverage decision, but also featured a patient testimonial from Newark, Del., resident Rosemarie Blair, who spoke about the value of virtual colonoscopy and how it saved her life. After avoiding a colonoscopy for a decade, Blair finally scheduled a virtual colonoscopy after a family friend passed away from colon cancer. Her virtual colonoscopy detected polyps that were removed, and the technology also found kidney cancer that would otherwise have gone undiagnosed--ultimately saving her life.

"Stories like Rosemarie's are a true testament to the power of medical imaging in preventing and detecting colon cancer," Spiegel said. "Without access to non-invasive methods of testing, many seniors will make the terrible decision to forgo screening. In Rosemarie's case, her decision to have a virtual colonoscopy saved her life."

Speakers for the event included J. Leonard Lichtenfeld, MD, deputy chief medical officer at the national office of American Cancer Society (ACS); Elizabeth McFarland, MD, chair of colon cancer committee at the American College of Radiology (ACR); Schuman; Spiegel; Amy Patrick, MD, managing partner of the Mid-Atlantic GI Consultants; and Mark J. Baumel, MD, founder, president and CEO of Colon Health Centers of America.