Heinrich, Capito Introduce Legislation to Improve Access to Colorectal Cancer Screenings for Seniors

WASHINGTON, D.C. – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.) and Shelley Moore Capito (R-W.Va.) today introduced the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act of 2018, legislation to increase access to and participation in colorectal cancer screenings. The bipartisan bill would make colorectal cancer screenings eligible for reimbursement through Medicare, as other Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved screening tests already are.

“Colon cancer is one of the most common diseases in New Mexico, but is actually preventable and treatable when it is found early. Improving colon cancer screening rates helps with early detection and can save lives,” Senator Heinrich said. “This bipartisan bill would make it easier for people to access all screening options for colon cancer, including non-evasive blood-based screening tests.”

“Screening is a proven and effective tool in helping individuals detect, fight, and prevent cancer. With more than 50,000 people expected to die from colorectal cancer this year, we need to make sure that more Americans have access to these life-saving cancer screenings,” Senator Capito said. “By making colorectal cancer screenings more easily available to those who rely on Medicare, we can help remove barriers to access and save lives—especially among our seniors and residents of rural states like West Virginia.”

Colorectal cancer is the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in men and women in the United States. According to the American Cancer Society, it's expected to cause roughly 50,630 deaths in 2018. Due in part to screenings, the colorectal cancer death rate has been in decline for several decades. In fact, when colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is approximately 90 percent. However, only about 4 out of ten colorectal cancers are detected at that early stage.

In 2016, a non-invasive method of colorectal cancer detection emerged. The screening, which identifies the presence of a DNA marker that may be present in the blood of patients with colorectal cancer, was approved by the FDA, but Medicare reimbursement for the test has not yet been authorized.

To continue bringing down the death rate for colorectal cancer and avoiding preventable deaths, the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act of 2018 will help remove barriers that are preventing individuals from accessing colorectal cancer screenings—specifically, costs and issues related to health insurance coverage.

The legislation already has the support of a number of health care organizations.

“We applaud the introduction of the Capito/Heinrich colorectal cancer detection bill in the U.S. Senate today. When passed, this legislation will help to screen the nation's unscreened and under screened patient populations,” Fight Colorectal Cancer President Anjelica Davis said. “Colorectal cancer is preventable. This bill will help to ensure that we are using all screening modalities at our disposal to prevent as many colorectal cancer deaths and diagnoses as possible.”

“We offer our strong support for the Capito/Heinrich colorectal cancer detection bill introduced today as this bipartisan legislation would provide Medicare reimbursement for FDA-approved blood screens for colorectal cancer and change the paradigm when it comes to participation in screening,” Colon Cancer Alliance CEO Michael Sapienza said.  “Medicare reimbursement for these lifesaving tests can dramatically improve the screening rate in underserved areas significantly cutting health care costs while saving lives.”