"An Act requiring that certain health care insurance plans provide coverage for the costs of colorectal cancer screening examinations and laboratory tests; and providing for an effective date. "
"Colon cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Alaska and across the nation."
- Rep. Anderson
Current Alaska state law requires that health insurance policies cover screening for breast, cervical, and prostate cancer. Colon cancer is the only cancer with a recommended screening test available that is not on this list. This bill completes the list, increasing Alaskans' access to all life-saving, recommended cancer screenings.
Colon cancer (technically known as colorectal cancer) is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in Alaska and across the nation. An estimated 57,000 Americans died from the colon cancer in 2005. Screening has the potential to drastically reduce this number. Consider these facts:
When caught through routine screening at the localized stage, the 5-year survival rate from colon cancer is over 90%.
If not caught until it has distant metastasis, when symptoms are likely to appear, the 5-year survival rate is only 10%.
Colonoscopy is over 90% effective at detecting colon cancer and can remove pre-cancerous polyps, actually preventing cancer from ever developing.
In addition to saving lives, colon cancer screening is cost-effective. National studies confirm that the cost of these screenings spread across the insured population is minimal. Covering screenings also has the potential for long-term savings by avoiding treatment costs. These long-term savings will likely continue to grow as new and dramatically more expensive drugs become the standard treatment for this disease. Some of these newer drugs are estimated to cost $250,000 a year, making the case for screening and prevention all the more pressing.
In practice, many insurance plans cover some, but not all of the range of recommended screening options listed in the nationally-recognized American Cancer Society guidelines. While not the right test for everyone, access to colonoscopy is critical because of its ability to actually prevent cancer by removing polyps. For the general population, colonoscopies are required only once every ten years starting at age 50. Medicare picks up coverage for the full range of screenings, including colonoscopy, when a person becomes Medicare eligible. These facts underscore the cost-effectiveness of covering what for most people will be two colonoscopies between ages 50 and 65.
The promise of screening in reducing suffering and death from colon cancer is tremendous. The Institute of Medicine reports that the death rate from colon cancer could drop by up to 80% if the majority of Americans were regularly screened. Screening can be cost-prohibitive to an individual without insurance coverage for these procedures. Eighteen states, including Texas, Missouri and Nevada, have already adopted similar legislation requiring screening coverage. Alaskans deserve access to all recommended cancer screenings, including life-saving colon cancer screening tests.