Heinrich, Wicker, Padilla Introduce Bipartisan Legislation To Improve Access To Colon Cancer Screenings

WASHINGTON – U.S. Senators Martin Heinrich (D-N.M.), Roger Wicker (R-Miss.), and Alex Padilla (D-Calf.) introduced the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act, legislation to increase access to and participation in colon cancer screenings. 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 53,000 deaths in 2021. 

This legislation would increase access to blood-based screening tests to allow people to understand if they are at risk of colon cancer before they scheduling a more invasive colonoscopy. Specifically, the bill would place all Food and Drug Administration (FDA)-approved blood-based screening tests on equal footing with other screening methods and authorize reimbursement from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS). Currently, the lack of authorization for reimbursement from Medicare is preventing people from accessing all screening options for colorectal cancer.

“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,” said Heinrich. “This bipartisan bill would make it easier for people to access all screening options for colon cancer, including non-evasive blood-based screening tests.”

“Colorectal cancer is largely preventable, yet still remains the third leading cause of cancer-related deaths in the United States,” said Wicker. “This legislation would increase screening options for Medicare beneficiaries, helping to improve detection among an otherwise unscreened population.”

“Colon cancer disproportionately impacts communities of color, but we know it is more treatable when detected early. That’s why improving access to colon cancer screenings is so critical,” said Padilla. “Simply put, the Colorectal Cancer Detection Act will save lives by making it easier to access colon cancer screenings for Californians and everyone across the country.”

To continue bringing down the death rate for colorectal cancer and avoiding preventable deaths, the barriers that are preventing 1 in 3 people in the United States who should get tested for colorectal cancer from being screened must be addressed. These barriers include a lack of knowledge that regular testing could save their lives from this disease and cost and health insurance coverage issues. These barriers are often exacerbated in rural areas where physical access to facilities that offer screening can also be a deterrent.

The Colorectal Cancer Detection Act seeks to authorize blood-based screening tests for CMS reimbursement and remove this potential barrier to screening. By increasing access to, and participation in, screening programs, thousands of colorectal cancers which may otherwise go undetected could be found and lives saved.

Regular colorectal cancer screening is one of the most powerful weapons for preventing colorectal cancer. Nearly two-thirds of the screening-eligible population currently participates in regular screening for colorectal cancer. Screening is recommended starting at age 50 for people who are not at increased risk of colorectal cancer, and there are several different screening options available. When colorectal cancer is found at an early stage before it has spread, the 5-year relative survival rate is about 90 percent. But only about two out of five colorectal cancers are found at this early stage.

The legislation already has the support of a number of health care organizations including the Colorectal Cancer Alliance, the Colorectal Cancer Foundation, and the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Project. 

“1 in 3 Americans are not up-to-date on their colorectal cancer screening. Screening has definitely proven to saves lives. The current FDA-approved colorectal cancer screening blood test is specifically intended for people who are not up-to-date on their respective screening. Medicare should support…I feel very strongly Medicare should reimburse for a screening method that addresses this ‘unscreened’ challenge. Colorectal Cancer Alliance definitely supports the Henrich/Wicker Senate bill for the Medicare coverage of FDA-approved colorectal cancer screening blood tests,” said Michael Sapienza, CEO of Colorectal Cancer Alliance.

“Colonoscopy alone cannot begin to address this the unscreened situation. We need every test option available to be harnessed and utilized immediately. Colorectal Cancer Foundation applauds the introduction of the Heinrich/Wicker 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 and put a priority on preventing a cancer diagnosis that never has to happen,” said Cindy Borassi, Acting President of the Colorectal Cancer Foundation.

“Patients need more options, not less. Blood based testing is critical to engaging more at average risk individuals to participate in CRC screening programs. Patients are accustomed to blood draws and want options that don’t require them to have an invasive procedure such as a colonoscopy or to collect stool specimens,” said Whitney Jones, MD, with the Colorectal Cancer Prevention Project.