Pam Dougherty, manager of federal government relations for the American Cancer Society, says her group pressed Congress to expand the colonoscopy benefit. Currently, Medicare recipients can receive a sigmoid colonoscopy every 2 yearsbut only if they are at high risk for colorectal cancer. The new bill allows average-risk individuals to receive a sigmoid colonoscopy once every 10 years. "That is a huge victory," exclaims Dougherty. The Medicare colorectal screening benefit also allows a fecal occult blood test every year, plus a flexible sigmoidoscopy every 4 years for average-risk individuals.
Besides the bill’s expansions in cancer screening, H.R. 5661 also instructs Tommy Thompson, who is nominated to be secretary of the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), to develop nine pilot projects aimed at reducing disparities in the early detection and treatment of cancer among minorities. Two projects will ensue for each of the following groups: American Indians and Eskimos, Asian Americans, Blacks, and Hispanics. The HHS has 1 year to determine the "best practices" for reducing the disparities, with 1 additional year to designate the nine demonstration projects. The projects will also attempt to improve clinical outcomes, patient satisfaction, and quality of life. If these pilots prove successful after 2 years, they may be continued; and if this occurs, there is no doubt that Congress will expand the program.