Screening for Osteoporosis and Colon Cancer under Medicare. (MCBS Highlights)

By Adler, Gerald S.; Shatto, Andrew | Health Care Financing Review, Summer 2002 | Go to article overview

Screening for Osteoporosis and Colon Cancer under Medicare. (MCBS Highlights)


Adler, Gerald S., Shatto, Andrew, Health Care Financing Review


SCREENING FOR OSTEOPOROSIS

Osteoporosis, a disease in which the bones lose mineral content and weaken, is a primary cause of disabling fractures in the elderly, mostly in females. Low bone density can be detected by X-ray and other radiographic techniques, as well as by ultrasound. Early detection can permit measures to delay the progression of osteoporosis, such as intake of dietary calcium and vitamin D, weight-bearing exercise, estrogen therapy, and stopping smoking (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 1996).

The Balanced Budget Act of 1997 expanded Medicare coverage of a number of preventive services, including bone density measurement for those "at risk for osteoporosis and other bone abnormalities," beginning July 1, 1998. The criteria of risk are broad, however, including estrogen deficiency. The procedure is covered once every 2 years, or more frequently if deemed medically necessary (Health Care Financing Administration Press Office, 1998).

Data from the 2000 Medicare Current Beneficiary Survey (MCBS) Access to Care File show that osteoporosis affects mainly, but not exclusively, females. Among the 30.3 million beneficiaries age 65 or over living in the community, 23 percent of females report having ever been diagnosed with osteoporosis, compared with 3 percent of males. Because osteoporosis is primarily a disease of females and its epidemiology differs between the genders, this article will focus on these 17.5 million females.

The data indicate a fertile field for an information initiative to publicize the bone density screening benefit, both to physicians who ought to be talking to more of their patients about osteoporosis, and to patients who should know more about the disease, the screening tests, and the Medicare benefit.

SCREENING FOR COLORECTAL CANCER

Colorectal cancer is second only to lung cancer in causing cancer-related deaths in the U.S., accounting for 55,000 deaths a year. It is largely a disease of people age 50 or over, and the risk increases with age. The early progression of the disease is largely asymptomatic: about 60 percent of patients with colorectal cancer have regional or distant metastases at the time of diagnosis. Survival is markedly improved by detecting the disease at an early stage (U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, 1996). According to the MCBS, about 3 percent of the Medicare aged report having been diagnosed with colon cancer.

Detection of colorectal cancer is via several types of screening tests, all of which are aimed at finding evidence of cancerous or precancerous growths. The most useful of these for population screening are: fecal occult blood testing and sigmoidoscopy. (1) The following are screening tests for colorectal cancer: digital rectal exam, fecal occult blood test (FOBT), sigmoidoscopy, colonoscopy, and barium enema.

Medicare covers a FOBT once a year under Part B, with no coinsurance or deductible. FOBT is given to the patient as a card with spaces for stool samples, which are collected at home. The samples are then sent to the doctor's office or a laboratory to be tested for the presence of hidden (occult) blood.

Medicare covers a sigmoidoscopy once every 4 years, subject to a 20-percent copayment after the Part B deductible is met. In this test the doctor visualizes the lower third of the colon (large intestine) through a flexible lighted tube, checking for cancerous lesions or polyps, which may be precancerous. This is usually done in the doctor's office. A colonoscopy is similar, using a longer tube to see more of the colon. Since it is more invasive, the procedure is often done in a hospital under anesthesia. Medicare covers a colonoscopy every 2 years for persons at high risk, otherwise every 10 years.

Figure 1

Percent of Aged Medicare Females Living in the Community Who Have Ever
Been Told by a Doctor They Had Osteoporosis: 2000

Never Talked       51%
Not Told           26%
Told Had           23%

Note: Table made from pie chart. … 

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