By, Jim Renacci
Feb. 6, 2012 was one of the greatest days of my life. It was the day my doctor pronounced me cancer-free.
By God’s grace, my cancer was detected and diagnosed early. Today, as a cancer survivor, I know firsthand the importance of detecting cancer early, whether it is during routine doctor visits or in utilizing self-screening methods at home. As we debate changing our health care approach, it’s vital that preventative measures be included in the discussion.
Of all the cancers, however, lung cancer is the most commonly diagnosed worldwide. The American Cancer Society estimates that there will be over 220,000 new cases of lung cancer in the U.S. this year alone. In addition, it is the leading cause of cancer-related deaths and kills more people than colon, breast, and prostate cancers combined. Unfortunately, the state of Ohio ranks amongst the highest in the nation both in rates of lung cancer diagnosis and rates of death.
Despite these staggering numbers, medical experts have made strides combatting this horrific disease. They have found that low-dose CT scans are the most effective tool for reducing lung-cancer related deaths and that they can reduce the mortality rate by over 20 percent.
Unfortunately, over the past few years, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) have made repeated cuts to both lung cancer screening visits and the low-dose CT scans. I and members on both sides of the aisle have written on numerous occasions to the administration to stand against these cuts in support of our seniors. This is a matter of life and death, and I will always stand on the side of life.
Since the 1964 Surgeon General Report that confirmed the statistical relationship of smoking to lung cancer, smoking in the United States has greatly decreased. However, lung cancer deaths continue to run rampant and threaten our most vulnerable. In 2014, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which advises Congress and CMS, released a recommendation that individuals between the ages of 55 to 80 years who have a smoking history should undergo annual screenings for lung cancer with low-dose CT scans. While almost all private health care plans cover individuals from the ages of 55-64, those above the age of 64 often rely on Medicare.
While ample evidence suggests that these screenings should be covered for high-risk seniors, over the past few years, CMS has cut these screenings drastically. For example, funding for screenings was cut by 47 percent in comparison to last year.
I fear that if more cuts are made, they will jeopardize the integrity of these lung cancer screenings and increase the lung cancer death toll. I recently lead a bipartisan effort urging Secretary Price of Health and Human Services and Administrator Verma of CMS to avoid any further cuts and protect the integrity and availability of these life-saving lung cancer screenings. No definitive cuts have been scheduled yet for 2018, but it is my hope that the administration will heed these words, and prevent our most vulnerable members in society from being left behind.
We must make sure that lung cancer screening is available to those who need it most, our seniors, many of whom used tobacco long before the Surgeon General alerted us of its negative effects. The majority of individuals who are diagnosed with lung cancer are in the Medicare population, and these tests have proved to save more lives than any cancer test in history.
Our seniors deserve to have the best, most advanced screenings and treatments available. My colleagues and I remain committed to providing our seniors the best care and treatment that they have spent a lifetime working for. I will do everything in my power to make sure my constituents are afforded the same opportunity that I had in detecting and treating cancer early on, while still curable.