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Medical Care blog

Comments from the scientific community regarding Medical Care.

Wednesday, July 15, 2015

How much could Medicare save with increased colorectal cancer screenings?

by Damika W. Barr, J.D.


Colorectal cancer (CRC) is the third-leading cause of cancer death in the United States among both men and women. When discovered early, it is highly treatable; however, only 58% of the population age 50 to 75 is up-to-date with screening according to guidelines.  


Guidelines recommend that people begin screening (colonoscopy or fecal occult blood testing) at age 50, but many are receiving their first screening when they become eligible for Medicare at age 65, or not at all. In either case, Medicare pays for the costs of treating cancers that could have been prevented with earlier screening.


How much could Medicare save if more people were screened before age 65?  As described in an article in the July issue of Medical Care, Goede and colleagues sought to find out. Using two independent microsimulation models, the Microsimulation Screening Analysis Colon (MISCAN-colon) and Simulation Model of CRC (SimCRC), the researchers compared the current annual and cumulative costs of colon cancer screening and treatment with a simulated scenario that increased screening participation from 60% to 70%.


The researchers found that increasing the proportion of individuals receiving annual screenings by 10 percentage points would increase upfront costs, but would decrease treatment costs: over a 50-year time horizon, an estimated 60% to 89% of the increased screening costs could be offset by savings in Medicare CRC treatment costs.


To read more about how the models simulated life histories of individuals considering the natural history of colon cancer, study limitations, and future research directions, click here.


Damika Barr is a Senior Health Policy Analyst at AmeriHealth Caritas. The views expressed on this post are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of AmeriHealth Caritas.