Colon Cancer Screening for the Uninsured

How to Find Financial Assistance in Your State

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Even though most colorectal cancers are completely curable if diagnosed early, it still remains the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the U.S.

Today, only one in three adults age 50 to 75 have gotten a colon cancer screening as recommended by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, despite the fact that it can reduce the risk of death by nearly 90 percent. The people hit hardest by this access gap are uninsured adults, more than half of whom have not seen a doctor much less scheduled a specialist procedure in the past year.

Average Cost of Colorectal Screening Options

According to a 2016 study from the Henry J. Kaiser Foundation, 28.5 million Americans are currently uninsured. Of these, many assume that they can't get a colon cancer screening or are simply cowed by the out-of-pocket costs associated with screening

On average, the line items costs for the various screening options include:

  • fecal occult blood test: $3 to $40
  • fecal DNA testing: $400 to $800
  • double-contrast barium enema: $200 to $1,000
  • virtual colonoscopy: $750 to $2,000
  • sigmoidoscopy: $2,000 to $3,750
  • conventional colonoscopy: $2,000 to $3,750

Even if you are able to afford some of these costs, the price tag of the most sophisticated tests is well out of reach for the average American.

But here's the trick: cheaper doesn't necessarily mean worse. Today, the technology used for virtual (CT) colonoscopy is not only less invasive than a conventional colonoscopy, it is often just as effective and able to see not only inside the colon but outside, as well.

Moreover, the costs of screening can vary from one clinic to the next. An informal online search found the Windsong Radiology Group in Buffalo, New York had a list price of $1,016 for a virtual colonoscopy but reduced the cost to just $775 if paid upfront in full.

This makes the simple act of comparison shopping all the more essential is you're paying out of pocket.

Financial Assistance for the Uninsured

If paying out of pocket isn't feasible for you, financial assistance may be available from a number of state and local resources. Eligibility is typically based on the family's annual income with thresholds ranging from 200 to 400 percent of the Federal Poverty Level (FPL) and even more in some states. This means that not only lower-income families qualify but some middle-income earners, as well:

Among the option available to eligible individuals and families:

  • Medicaid is a federal healthcare program administered by the individual states. Colon cancer screening is classified an essential benefit under federal law, meaning that the state is obliged to cover the cost in full. With this being said, each state also gets to dictate which kind of screening it will provide. You can find out what's offered in your state, as well as the current eligibility requirements, at Benefits.gov.
  • Medicare Part B offers the same benefits free of charge to adults 50 and over. Options vary but can include double-contrast barium enema, colonoscopy, fecal occult blood test, fecal DNA test, and flexible sigmoidoscopy.
  • Free colorectal screening programs are sometimes offered through community-based initiatives and local health departments. You can locate some of these programs through the nonprofit​ Stop Colon Cancer Now.
  • The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) in Atlanta also sponsors a Screening for Life program which reimburses participating health departments for cancer screenings. When contacting your state or local health department, ask if they participate in the CDC program and if it extends to colorectal screenings.

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