Members of Congress are trying to assure
coverage of cancer screening tests under private insurance plans that
Congress equired Medicare to cover as part of the 1997 Balanced
Budget Act. Reps. Carolyn Maloney (D-N.Y.) and Sue Kelly (R-N.Y.)
introduced the Cancer Screening Coverage Act (H.R. 1285), which would
require insurers to pay for breast, prostate, cervical, and
colorectal cancer screening for all privately insured individuals.
The insurance industry has been strongly opposed to these kinds of
federal mandates; for example, it fought having to provide mental
health coverage equal to physical health coverage and was successful
in watering down congressional legislation along those lines.
Perhaps in acknowledgment of the political power of the insurance
industry, Sen. Edward Kennedy (D-MA) and Reps. Louise Slaughter
(D-N.Y.) and Connie Morella (R-MD) introduced the Eliminate
Colorectal Cancer Act of 1999. The thinking is that insurers might be
less likely to block this one-cancer bill than the broader
Maloney/Kelly bill. Also, colorectal cancer strikes women and men at
similar rates, as opposed to breast, prostate, and cervical cancers.
So the Kennedy bill cannot be opposed on the grounds that it only
helps half of the population. This bill would require insurance
companies to pay for any of four options: fecal occult blood testing,
flexible sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, or a double-contrast barium
enema. The type of test that the patient would undergo and the
frequency of testing would be left up to the physician and patient.
Some cancer groups may believe that the Kennedy bill hurts the
Maloney/Kelly bill, but not Bernard Levin, MD, chair of an American
Cancer Society colorectal cancer advisory group. In no way does
Sen. Kennedys bill detract or take away from the comprehensive
legislative approach we traditionally use to advocate on behalf of
cancer issues, he says.