Obama Discusses Preventative Screening Tests for Colorectal Cancer

September 15, 2009

President Obama addressed his goal to cover preventative screening tests last week saying that there is "no reason" for cancers, such as breast and colon, not to be caught before they become advanced, and bringing to attention the efforts of government officials to have these screening tests covered by public and private insurance companies.

President Obama addressed his goal to cover preventative screening tests in a speech to a joint session of Congress last Wednesday, September 9, saying that there is “no reason” for cancers, such as breast and colon, not to be caught before they become advanced, and bringing to attention the efforts of government officials to have these screening tests covered by public and private insurance companies.

The "Supporting ColoRectal Examination and Education Now," or SCREEN Act, was introduced by Senators Ben Cardin (D-MD) and Lindsey Graham (R-SC) and “promotes access to colorectal cancer screenings by waiving Medicare beneficiary cost sharing, increasing reimbursement rates for screening services, and by providing Medicare coverage for a pre-screening consultation.” Passage of the act would also allow the Secretary of Health and Human Services “to set a nationwide colorectal cancer screening target rate, implements colorectal cancer screening grant programs, and would require annual reminders to Medicare beneficiaries regarding the importance of colorectal cancer screening.”

According to information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), colorectal cancer that is detected and treated early results in a five-year survival rate of 90%. However, findings from the National Health Interview Survey, administered by the CDC, found that “only 42.5 percent of U.S. adults age 50 or older had undergone a sigmoidoscopy or colonoscopy within the previous 10 years or had used a fecal occult blood test home test kit within the preceding year.” As a result, deaths from colorectal cancers are much higher than they would be if everyone underwent the proper screening tests. The low numbers of individuals taking advantage of the screening tests not only increases death rates, according to Dr. Eamonn Quigley, president of the American College of Gastroenterology (ACG), but it also creates a significant economic burden.

"We know screening for colorectal cancer is good health policy, and makes good economic sense," said Quigley, citing data from a New England Journal of Medicine article that states that “a colonoscopy colorectal cancer screening is one of the few preventive services shown to reduce future health care costs.”

Quigley also said that the ACG supports the proposed legislation and applauds Obama for his work toward healthcare reform.

"At a time when Congress and the President are seeking to improve access to high quality health care and preventive services, legislation such as the SCREEN Act will increase the rate of colorectal cancer screening through proven measures to accomplish these goals," said Quigley.