March 2, 2010
President Obama Gets Virtual Colonoscopy
Test Proven to Increase Screening Levels and Save Lives, but Not Covered by Medicare
Washington, DC - The Colon Cancer Alliance today commended President Obama for getting screened for colon cancer, America's second leading cause of cancer deaths. The President chose to screen for colon cancer using CT colonography (CTC), commonly known as a "virtual colonoscopy."
As Colon Cancer Awareness Month kicks off, the President's decision to undergo a virtual colonoscopy and tell the public about undergoing colon cancer screening is a smart way to raise awareness of a disease that takes 50,000 lives in the U.S. each year. Colorectal cancer affects one in 19 Americans and is almost entirely preventable through screening. The CCA applauds President Obama's decision to screen and avoid this deadly disease.
The President's choice of screening method (compared to a traditional optical colonoscopy) also raises some questions for the Administration. According to a letter-to-the-editor in the New England Journal of Medicine (Sept. 24, 2009, pg. 1316), Dr. Brooks Cash, integrated chief of medicine at the Walter Reed Army Medical Center and the National Naval Medical Center in Bethesda -- the very facility where President Obama was screened -- saw a 70 percent increase in colon screenings after virtual colonoscopy was offered as an option. Only about half of Americans who should be tested for colon cancer actually get screened.
The CCA recognizes the traditional colonoscopy is a tremendous screening test, but virtual colonoscopy gives another option for colorectal screening with less invasiveness and no conscious sedation. Having more screening choices is critical to raising screening rates.
Unfortunately, despite the tireless work of the Colon Cancer Alliance to increase the rate of colon cancer screenings, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) continues to deny coverage for virtual colonoscopy despite the fact that data exists showing the test is clinically- and cost-effective for colon cancer screening. The Colon Cancer Alliance also notes the President's screening choice is at odds with U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommendations, which does not accept the virtual colonoscopy as an approved screening method. This same group recently issued the controversial mammography guidelines for breast cancer and will be charged with making major health care decisions if current versions of health care reform legislation are passed. These non-coverage decisions are contrary to the recommendations of the American Cancer Society as well as respected medical professionals and associations. Ninety-seven percent of comment letters to CMS urged virtual colonoscopy as a screening option for Medicare populations.
The Colon Cancer Alliance believes that CMS and the USPSTF should follow President Obama's lead and ensure Medicare beneficiaries and those covered by private insurance have the same colon cancer screening choices as the President. The CCA has met with both CMS and the USPSTF, held briefings at the Capitol and will continue to encourage governmental groups to revisit their non-coverage decisions for virtual colonoscopy.
The CCA congratulates President Obama on a clean bill of colon health. We implore him to make the same screening option available to all Americans.
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The Colon Cancer Alliance (CCA) is a national patient advocacy organization dedicated to ending the suffering caused by colorectal cancer. In order to increase rates of screening and survivorship, CCA provides patient support, education, research and advocacy across North America.