Dent cosponsors bill to make colorectal cancer screenings more accessible, affordable

Congressman Charlie Dent (PA-15) on Feb. 14 joined his fellow colleagues, Representatives Donald M. Payne, Jr. (D, NJ-10) and Leonard Lance (R, NJ-7), in introducing legislation to eliminate an unintended, hidden cost for Medicare beneficiaries who undergo colorectal cancer screenings.

Under current law, seniors covered by Medicare are not charged coinsurance for a screening colonoscopy. If, however, the attending physician discovers a polyp during the screening and removes it, which is standard procedure, the procedure is billed as a “treatment” rather than a “screening” under Medicare’s billing codes. Seniors are then responsible for covering the coinsurance for the procedure, which can be anywhere from $100 to $300. The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act, or H.R. 1017, would simply waive Medicare’s cost-sharing requirement for preventative colonoscopies, even if a polyp or tissue is removed.

“I am proud to join with my colleagues in introducing this legislation to correct an unfortunate glitch in current law and help save lives by encouraging more people to get regularly scheduled colon screenings,” Dent said. “Seniors do not know whether they have a polyp before being screened, and as a result, some end up having to make a large co-payment on a service they were told would not cost them anything. Colonoscopies are life-saving screening procedures, and we want to encourage more people to get them, not deter them because of high insurance costs.”

“Medicare beneficiaries cannot receive lifesaving colorectal cancer screenings if those screenings are unaffordable,” added Congressman Donald M. Payne, Jr. (NJ-10), the lead Democratic co-sponsor of this act. “Our bill eliminates colonoscopy cost-sharing for Medicare patients so that every patient has access to this lifesaving preventative service. We cannot let cost stand in the way of care—this bill offers a solution to improve health outcomes and save lives by increasing accessibility to screenings.”

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“This fight is personal for me and for countless Americans across the country,” said Congressman Leonard Lance (NJ-7), a member of the House Energy and Commerce Health Subcommittee who has successfully guided cancer research legislation to be signed into law. “Awareness about colorectal cancer is the best protection and well-rounded care during and after treatment is the best therapy. I thank my friend and colleague Congressman Dent in again leading this effort. Many patients are counting on this solution.”

An estimated 135,000 Americans will be diagnosed with colorectal cancer, and nearly 50,000 of them will die from it. In the United States, colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among both men and women combined. Approximately 60 percent of colorectal cancer cases and 70 percent of deaths occur in those aged 65 and older.

Fight Colorectal Cancer, an advocacy group established in 2005 and a past supporter of the bill, has once again announced their support for the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act.

“Each year we continue to push for this bill to be passed because colorectal cancer impacts our seniors,” said Anjee Davis, president of Fight CRC. “This is a cancer that can be prevented with screening. The undo cost incurred when polyps are found for Medicare patients is inhibiting people from being screened. It was not the intention and should be fixed.”

“This important bill will make colorectal cancer screenings more accessible to more people, regardless of their ability to pay,” said Chris Hansen, president of the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), a group which has also voiced their support for the bill. “More seniors getting screened will result in fewer cases of cancer, less treatment-associated costs, and more importantly, fewer needless deaths from a disease that can be easily detected and prevented.”

“If you consider the relatively low cost of this preventative service versus the high costs of extensive cancer treatments and hospital stays that those suffering from colorectal cancer must endure, it’s clear this bill provides a commonsense and fiscally responsible way to save lives,” Dent concluded. “It’s not just dollars and cents, it’s life or death.”