Congress Calls for Lung Cancer Screening Test Expansion Under Medicare

Preventative care is all the buzz these days in the medical field.  

Think about it: every so often, you take your car in for a tune up so as to hopefully prevent serious problems from occurring down the road. Maybe the mechanic will notice something’s slightly loose in your engine and tighten it. Had he or she not done that, a few more miles of wear and tear and your engine might have overheated—with you bearing the brunt of the bill.

Our health is more important than our cars, and the tide is finally starting to shift that we need to be proactive about our health rather than reactive.

Cancer ScreeningBut for some reason, lawmakers in Washington aren’t offering to let Medicare patients exercise preventative care when it comes to their lungs.

In its current form, Medicare doesn’t cover lung-cancer screening for its beneficiaries. Some pundits have speculated that such screenings could save up to the lives of 14,000 Medicare patients each year.

A recent push by more than 130 lawmakers might expand coverage to include such screenings.

“Americans pay into Medicare throughout their working lives and deserve to have access to potentially life-saving evidence-based screenings that can prevent further health costs down the road,” a letter sent by the lawmakers to the Obama administration reads.

Lung Cancer: The Facts and Figures

According to lung.org, about 160,000 Americans are expected to die from lung cancer this year, accounting for 27 percent of all cancer deaths.  There are about 400,000 Americans currently living with the disease, and about 225,000 more cases are expected to be diagnosed in 2014. It’s quite expensive to treat the disease too, costing Americans $12.1 billion in 2010.

For the most part, lung cancer affects the elderly, with recent figures indicating that 82 percent of all cases of the disease were found in those who were at least 60-years-old. Because Medicare beneficiaries are at least 65-years-old, it follows that a lot of lung cancer patients—about 70 percent, in fact—are likely receiving Medicare.

Lung-cancer screenings help identify the disease in its early stages, thus giving patients the care they need to cure themselves or at least extend their lives. With Medicare covering similar screenings for other, not-as-lethal cancers—like colon cancer, breast cancer and prostate cancer—it sure makes you scratch your head to think about reasons as to why lung cancer screenings aren’t covered.

After all, if a business will invest in a smoke evacuation system to create a healthier working environment, why won’t America invest in its citizens to ensure a healthier population?

Wake Up, America

In today’s difficult economic climate, people on both sides of the aisle, for the most part, are in agreement that something needs to be done in regards to government spending. In other words, we as a country need to reduce our expenses where we can—it’s not a foreign concept.

So just like we pay to tune up our automobiles to avoid expensive repairs down the road, why don’t we exercise similar caution when it comes to the health of our seniors? After all, post diagnosis, Medicare beneficiaries will undoubtedly have taxpayer resources directed at them as they receive medical treatment. Wouldn’t we as a nation be better off, from a purely economic standpoint, allowing these patients to have lung-cancer screenings—something that costs less up front and saves money on the back end?

And that’s not even to talk about the fact that such screenings have proven to save lives, reducing the mortality rates associated with the disease by 20 percent.

Societies need to respect the elderly. In this case, these adults have paid into Medicare for their entire lives, so it makes absolutely no sense that they should be deprived of coverage when they need it most.

By providing our seniors with access to lung-cancer screening tests, we will save money, but more importantly, we will extend their lives.