Advocates push mandate for cancer screening

By Kyle Cheney
State House News Service / June 22, 2011

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Colorectal cancer will afflict 3,000 Massachusetts residents and kill 1,000 of them in 2011 — the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the Bay State — in part because insurers are not required to cover colorectal cancer screenings, the American Cancer Society argued yesterday.

“When diagnosed at the earliest stage, the five-year survival rate is 90 percent; however, only 39 percent of colorectal cancers are diagnosed at this stage, mostly due to low rates of screening,’’ Marc Hymovitz, the society’s director of government relations and advocacy, wrote in a submission to the Legislature’s Committee on Public Health. “And, when diagnosis is delayed until the disease has spread to distant organs, the five-year survival rate plummets to just 10 percent.’’

Hymovitz argued that incidences of breast cancer will probably outpace colorectal cancer by 2,600 this year, but there will be 220 fewer breast cancer deaths because screenings are part of required insurance coverage and patients are more likely to discover it early.

Forcing insurers to cover colorectal cancer screenings, as would be required in a bill within the committee’s purview, would cost an estimated $8.50 per patient each year, Hymovitz said, adding that treating a patient with late-stage colorectal cancer can cost $300,000 to $500,000 per year.

Last session the bill won the approval of the Public Health Committee, but was cut short in the Committee on Health Care Financing, which ordered further study, effectively killing the bill.

Insurers have fought coverage mandates, arguing that they add to the overall cost of health insurance as policy makers search for ways to contain costs. In the last few years, lawmakers have required insurers to cover behavioral health services for autism patients, expanded infertility mandates, and forced insurers to eliminate copayments and deductibles for services that support developmentally delayed children from birth to 3 years old.