Genes are heredity units each of us received from our parents. Much like a blueprint is the plan for how a building is constructed, genes are the blueprint for our bodies' determining characteristics, including blood type and hair color. But genes can also serve as clues, indicating that an individual may be at higher risk for certain diseases such as cancer.
Genetic counselors are health care professionals who use genetic information, as well as family history and other factors, to help patients make informed medical decisions. Doctors will frequently refer patients for genetic counseling if their family has a history of colorectal cancer or Lynch syndrome and after colorectal cancer surgery.
Research shows genetic counseling provides for improved health outcomes and lower costs. This is why many private health insurance plans provide coverage for genetic counseling. But Medicare does not cover genetic counseling services that are furnished by genetic counselors.
There is bi-partisan legislation pending in Congress that would fix this and help modernize Medicare and catch up with the advances in genetics and genomic medicine. The Access to Genetic Counseling Services Act has sixty-five co-sponsors in the House (H.R. 2144) and five in the Senate (S 1450). This legislation will improve access to genetic counselors and help ensure appropriate genetic testing, as well as further integrate genetic counselors into the health care team.
Now that the mid-term elections are over, Congress will start work on the year-end omnibus legislation. The omnibus combines many topically unrelated pieces of legislation into a single bill. It is frequently the way important legislation that has not moved on its own can be enacted. For example, the omnibus enabled Representative Payne’s bill to close the colonoscopy loophole in Medicare to become law.
The Colorectal Cancer Alliance is urging Congress to include the Access to Genetic Counseling Services Act in the omnibus legislation. You can help support our advocacy work on this by contacting your Representative and Senators. Just send the email message below or a message you choose. You can find your representative at www.house.gov and senator at www.senate.gov.
As a constituent with a personal interest in cancer prevention, I am writing to urge that the Access to Genetic Counseling Services Act be included in the end-of-year legislation package. This will help ensure appropriate genetic testing and improve access to genetic counselors. Medicare needs to come up to speed with the advancements in genetics and genomic medicine. Thank you for your attention to this important matter!
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