KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations

Task Force Recommends Annual CT Scans For High-Risk Smokers

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has recommended that high-risk current and former smokers get an annual CT scan to look for cancer. If the draft recommendation becomes final, insurers will likely have to cover the scan at no co-pay cost to consumers.

The New York Times: Task Force Urges Scans for Smokers at High Risk
The recommendation by the United States Preventive Services Task Force, still in draft form, could change medical practice by making annual CT screening the standard of care for the highest-risk smokers. And because insurers cover procedures strongly recommended by the task force, eligible patients would no longer have to bear the cost themselves. Under President Obama's health care law, those who are eligible for the scan would have no co-pay. The procedure's average price is about $170, according to the Advisory Board Company, a health care research firm in Washington, which polled oncology professionals (Tavernise, 7/30).

The Washington Post: Older Smokers Should Get CT Scans For Lung Cancer, Panel Recommends
Patient advocates welcomed the task force's decision to give its recommendation a "B" rating, which, under the terms of the Affordable Care Act, would require insurance companies eventually to cover the tests without co-payments from patients. The average national cost of the procedure is about $750, though prices vary widely, according to Castlight Health, which analyzes price and quality data for health-care services (Bernstein, 7/29).

The Associated Press/Washington Post: Panel Backs Lung Cancer Screening For Heavy Smokers; Insurers Likely To Pay For Scans
For the first time, government advisers are recommending screening for lung cancer, saying certain current and former heavy smokers should get annual scans to cut their chances of dying of the disease. If it becomes final as expected, the advice by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force would clear the way for insurers to cover CT scans, a type of X-ray, for those at greatest risk (7/29).

The Wall Street Journal: Influential Federal Panel Backs CT Scans For Lung Cancer
The federal preventive-services task force, which consists of private physicians appointed by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, acknowledged risks but concluded that low-dose computed tomography, or CT, imaging "reduced lung cancer mortality by 20 percent and all-cause mortality by nearly 7 percent." Its findings are being published Tuesday in the Annals of Internal Medicine. "We believe the benefits do outweigh the harms," said Michael LeFevre, co-vice chairman of the task force. He said the decision was largely based on a 2011 study sponsored by the National Cancer Institute. The task force recommended that people consider screening for lung cancer if they are current or former smokers between the ages of 55 and 79, and have smoked the equivalent of a pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years and have smoked within the past 15 years. Lung screening is already available at some hospitals and often costs in the range of $100 to $300 a test (Burton, 7/29).

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