News from the Field—Should Medicare Cover Lung Screenings?


“The primary issue here is saving lives, not saving costs for Medicare!”

-Nancy Torrison

After years of debate, Medicare has not yet decided whether it should cover lung cancer screening, yet if there is any doubt that the stig-ma is alive and well, just Google Medicare Lung Cancer and read on. While Americans argue about whether preventative screenings should be allowed to increase Medicare costs, 160,000 Americans (2500 Minnesotans) will die of the disease this year. At the time of diagno-sis, more than half had quit smoking or never smoked at all. We don’t question preventative screening for other cancers that are also affect-ed by smoking, nor do we question the billions of dollars spent on other diseases, such as diabetes and heart disease that can also be caused or exacerbated by unhealthy personal choices. How is this fair? How do we justify dismissing the cancer that claims more American lives than any other cancer?

Adding low-dose CT (LDCT) to the Medi-care program, which covers people older than 65 years, could result in the detection of ap-proximately 54,900 more lung cancer cases during a 5-year period, with most at an early and more treatable stage. The potential cost is over $9 billion, according to lead study author Joshua A. Roth, PhD, MHA, a postdoctoral research fellow at the Fred Hutchinson Cancer Research Center in Seattle. “We predicted that over a 5-year period, LDCT would result in more lung cancers, a shift toward an earlier stage of diagnosis, and increased expenditure, particularly on scans themselves,” he reported. It is estimated that coverage of screening would double the proportion of early-stage diagnoses from the current 15% to 33%, and decrease late stage diagnoses from the current 57% to 40%. There is no question at A Breath of Hope Lung Foundation that lung cancer needs to become a high priority disease and every life is worth fighting for. In time, we hope that lung cancer screening, like colon and breast cancer, will include everyone, regardless of smoking history.