Private Insurers Must Cover Follow-Up Colonoscopies

Heidi Splete

January 14, 2022

Private insurers are now required to cover the cost of follow-up colonoscopies after a positive stool-based test, according to updated guidance from the Biden administration cited in a press release from the American Gastroenterology Association.

"Now patients can choose the best colorectal cancer screening test for them without fear of a surprise bill. Patients have full coverage of the full screening continuum — from an initial stool or endoscopic test to a follow-up colonoscopy. Now that the financial barriers have been eliminated, we can focus on increasing screening so we can prevent cancer deaths," John Inadomi, MD, president of the AGA, said in the press release.

The updated guidance, issued on Jan. 10, 2022, "will prevent patients from receiving surprise bills for a colonoscopy when they receive a positive result from a stool-based test," according to the AGA press release.

In 2016, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommended colorectal cancer screening for all adults starting at age 50 years and continuing to age 75 years, with an "A" rating. Because the Affordable Care Act (ACA) mandated coverage for preventive screenings without cost-sharing that receive an "A" or "B" grade from the USPSTF, previous statements have confirmed that cost sharing may not be imposed on patients for screening in accordance with the USPSTF recommendation, which included specialist consultation prior to the procedure, bowel prep medications, anesthesia services in conjunction with a preventive colonoscopy, polyp removal performed during the screening procedure, and any pathology exam on a polyp biopsy performed as part of the screening.

By adding colonoscopies following positive stool tests to that list, the updated guidance means that all aspects of the screening procedure are now covered without cost sharing.

In May 2021, an update to the USPSTF recommendations called for a follow-up colonoscopy in the wake of a positive test: "Positive results on stool-based screening tests require follow-up with colonoscopy for the screening benefits to be achieved." The 2021 update also extended the screening recommendation to adults aged 45-49 years with a "B" rating.

Private insurers must now pay for follow-up colonoscopy as needed in addition to the initial noninvasive screening, according to the guidance.

The updated guidance is presented as part of a series of frequently asked questions regarding implementation of the Families First Coronavirus Response Act, the Coronavirus Aid, Relief, and Economic Security Act, and the Affordable Care Act. The colonoscopy guidance falls under the heading of "Coverage of Preventive Services," which includes evidence-based recommendations given an A or B rating by the USPSTF.

Coverage without cost sharing must begin on or after May 31, 2022, which is 1 year after the date of the latest recommendations, according to the FAQ.

Representatives of multiple organizations, including the AGA, American Cancer Society, American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network, and Fight CRC collaborated to promote the additional coverage. "We applaud the administration for supporting coverage of the full colorectal cancer screening continuum, which will improve access to lifesaving screening," the collaborators said in the press release.

Colorectal cancer remains the second leading cancer killer in the United States, but only two-thirds of eligible individuals were screened in 2018, according to the AGA, and screening challenges were exacerbated by the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic. The AGA estimates that colorectal cancer screening declined by 86% during the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020.

The full Jan. 10 FAQ is available here.

This article originally appeared on MDedge.com, part of the Medscape Professional Network.

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