In a clear blow to CT device manufacturers like General Electric, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has decided not to cover virtual colonoscopy, which is a non-invasive way of screening for colon cancer.
It's the right decision. Although virtual colonoscopy was recommended by the American Cancer Society (ACS) as a reasonable alternative to the more invasive flexible sigmoidoscopy and colonoscopy, the issue with virtual colonoscopy is radiation exposure when other ways of screening already exist. Certainly from the perspective of ACS, which is an organization focused on increasing cancer screening and awareness, I understand the reason for adding virtual colonoscopy as an option.
But in the reality of the healthcare crisis and the goal of President Obama to make healthcare more affordable for all, decisions like this are inevitable where someone won't be happy with the outcome, in this case CT device manufacturers. With the announcement earlier this week that hospitals, insurers, doctors, device manufacturers will decrease the rate of health care expenses by 1.5% per year over the next decade, tough decisions will be made. Private insurers often follow CMS decisions, so don't expect to have virtual colonoscopy covered by your insurance company to screen for colon cancer.
The funny thing is this decision by CMS will be one of the easier decisions to make because other, although less comfortable procedures exist to screen for colon cancer. (Note that the preparation for all three procedures is the same. One needs to take a laxative to clear the colon of stool so that colon polyps can be visualized).
The other is that CMS will be using guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force in basing decisions. USPSTF bases recommendations on scientific evidence and tends to be the most conservative of any organization, like the American Heart Association, American Cancer Society, and various physician organizations.
CMS left the door open for reconsideration of virtual colonoscopy in the future, which is reasonable. Certainly the technology may evolve where radiation exposure is minimal to justify exposing people of average risk to a modality that potentially could increase other forms of cancer.
Review my March entry - Virtual Colonoscopy - Just Say No.
The entire article from the Associated Press follows:
Tue May 12, 10:18 pm ET
WASHINGTON – Medicare won't pay for the so-called virtual colonoscopy procedure, concluding Tuesday that there's inadequate evidence to support the cheaper, less intrusive alternative to the dreaded colonoscopy.
Some experts had hoped that popularizing the X-ray procedure would boost screening for colon cancer, the country's second leading cancer killer. Screening to spot early cancer or precancerous growths has resulted in fewer deaths over the last two decades.
But in a decision posted on its Web site, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services said that the test does not qualify for Medicare coverage. The memo noted that the procedure is performed on people without symptoms and cannot, in itself, rid a patient of precancerous growths, like a regular colonoscopy can.
Medicare does cover regular colonoscopies, in which a long, thin tube equipped with a small video camera is snaked through the large intestine to view the lining. Any growth can be removed during the procedure.
CT colonography, also known as virtual colonoscopy, is a super X-ray of the colon that is quicker, cheaper and easier on the patient, but involves radiation. Both procedures involve preparation to clean out the bowels.
The Medicare memo notes that the virtual colonoscopy has shown better precision in detecting larger polyps than smaller ones.
There's been some division of opinion in the medical community over the virtual colonoscopy. Some doctors question its utility since, if a polyp is found, a regular colonoscopy would typically have to follow, anyway.
Others support it, saying it can result in early cancer detection. The American Cancer Society recommends it as an alternative to a regular colonoscopy.
A concern for Medicare officials, according to their decision Tuesday, was the effectiveness of the procedure for the Medicare population — people 65 and older — as opposed to younger patients. More data is needed to answer that, Medicare said.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force opted last fall not to give its stamp of approval to the virtual colonoscopy, citing the risk of radiation among other factors. Medicare said it took that decision into account in reaching Tuesday's determination, which is final.
Some private insurers cover the virtual procedure but others don't. Colonoscopies cost up to $3,000 while the X-ray test costs $300 to $800.