By Senator Sherrod Brown
May 28, 2014
The preventive procedures covered by Medicare are critical to ensuring that seniors live long healthy lives, regardless of their finances. That’s why screening for colorectal cancer, the third leading cause of cancer death for both men and women in the U.S., is so important. Despite the risks, one in three adults between the ages of 50 and 75 is not getting screened as recommended.
Cost should not be a barrier to screening. Under current law, Medicare beneficiaries are eligible for free colorectal cancer screenings. But if a doctor needs to take a further lifesaving, preventive action—like removing a polyp—the screening is no longer free. Instead, the patient is billed as if the procedure was treatment rather than preventive measure.
The result is that if, during a colonoscopy, a doctor discovers a polyp or other abnormal cell tissue, the patient receives an additional charge. There’s no way to know before a colonoscopy whether a polyp will be detected and removed, and because patients are not awake for the procedure, they have no say in the removal. Patients wake up from anesthesia with a new medical bill to worry about when they should be focused on recovery. These surprise bills can put undue financial strain on seniors that undergo screening and serve as a barrier to screening.
Removing polyps or tissue is a way of getting rid abnormal cells before they can become cancer. This cancer prevention procedure should be covered by Medicare, as part of regular screenings.
To address this billing issue, I introduced The Removing Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screening Act. My legislation would keep colorectal cancer screening procedures free by waiving the co-pay for removing polyps or other tissue.
This month, I spoke at the Cleveland Clinic about the importance of making sure that colorectal cancer screening and polyp removal is free under Medicare. I was joined by Edwin Murphy, who lost his wife to colorectal cancer, and is at high-risk himself. Edwin undergoes regular screening and had 25 polyps removed at his first screening. If he did not have supplemental Medicare coverage, he would have faced steep bills after the procedure. Edwin’s wife did not get screened at age 50 as recommended and he believes that a preventive screening would have most likely caught her cancer earlier or even prevented it.
Stories like those of Edwin and his wife remind us that Ohioans deserve accessible preventive medical care. Fixing this billing flaw will not only decrease costs, but save lives.