Lung cancer screenings 'make sense' for insurers

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Insurers should cover certain lung cancer screenings because it's a cost-effective method to prevent thousands of deaths every year, according to a new study published in the journal Health Affairs.

The study analyzed the effect of low-dose CT chest scans for smokers and long-term former smokers between 50 and 64 years old, or about 18 million people. Even if only half of those high-risk patients underwent the screenings each year, it would cost insurers about $247 per member tested each year or less than $1 per insured member per month, reported The Hill's Healthwatch.

"These results demonstrate the cost efficiency of offering this benefit to people who are at high risk of lung cancer," said lead author Bruce Pyenson, an actuary and principal at consulting firm Milliman. "[Lung cancer] is a very deadly kind of cancer, but it is also concentrated in a relatively small group of people who have a history of smoking. That's why the economics makes such powerful sense here."

What's more, the study found that the screenings would reduce lung cancer deaths and cost insurers less than colorectal, breast and cervical cancer screenings, according to a Rush University Medical Center research announcement.

"This leads to treatment costs that are earlier and lower, and to more people cured of or living with cancer, both changes that are quantified by our calculation," the study said.

The authors did recognize a caveat, however. If screening tests don't follow best-practice guidelines, they could result in higher costs and lower benefits. As such, insurers should select high-quality providers to administer the screenings and rigorously track outcomes, according to the press release. "The goal would be to ensure achievable standards for quality and cost," the researchers said.

To learn more:
- read the Health Affairs study
- see the Rush announcement
- check out The Hill's Healthwatch article
- read the Health Day News article

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