Genetic counselors save health care dollars when involved in the testing process

Genetic counselors save health care dollars when involved in the testing process
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As a cardiovascular genetic counselor with more than 15 years of experience, I know firsthand the critical importance of identifying genetic risk in a timely manner. Genetic counselors are in a unique position to help patients and their providers navigate medically complex genetic risk factors. 

Everyday, genetic counselors are evaluating and providing guidance on the constantly evolving nature of genetic testing. With their advanced training in medical genetics and counseling, certified genetic counselors are able to provide state of the art services, accurately assess risk, identify the right genetic test, ensure correct interpretations of genetic test results and guide patient decision-making. 

The National Institutes of Health recognizes that genetic counselors are trained to help patients and caregivers “understand the scientific, emotional and ethical factors surrounding the decision to have genetic testing.” Genetic counselors use their expertise to collaborate with healthcare providers on the best medical pathway forward for the patient, based on the test results.

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Complex genetic tests are rapidly evolving, greatly magnifying the need for Medicare beneficiaries to have access to genetic counselors who can guide them through the complex testing process. 

The Medicare program does not reimburse certified genetic counselors directly. Direct access to a certified genetic counselor would help ensure that more Medicare patients receive critical services in time to avoid costly complications and improve health outcomes. This is particularly true for seniors at risk of hereditary heart diseases, cancer or neurological conditions — for these patients, genetic counseling is an essential service that is best delivered by a certified genetic counselor.

The Medicare program has not kept pace with changes in innovation and payment for genetic testing and counseling. Congress has an opportunity to address this program failure, and help beneficiaries, by adopting the Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act. The legislation would authorize the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to recognize certified genetic counselors as health-care providers.

The proliferation of genetic testing is exploding, and will only continue to grow in the future. Medicare is expected to spend approximately $23 billion in the next ten years on these tests. Evidence indicates genetic counselors can help drive cost efficiencies by providing guidance about which genetic tests would be most beneficial — depending on a patient’s situation — and working with patients and their providers to determine if genetic testing is appropriate. 

Genetic counseling services can also help ensure Medicare beneficiaries do not face avoidable complications and are not subjected to additional costs. And Medicare already covers genetic counseling, but the program only reimburses other practitioners to provide it.

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To ensure access and address the complexity of genetic testing in appropriate medical care, the National Society of Genetic Counselors (NSGC) strongly supports the Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act introduced in Congress. Sponsored by Reps. Dave LoebsackDavid (Dave) Wayne LoebsackOvernight Health Care — Presented by National Taxpayers Union — Buttigieg targets Warren, Sanders on health care ahead of debate | Judge overturns ObamaCare transgender protections | Poll sees support drop for 'Medicare for All' Genetic counselors save health care dollars when involved in the testing process Iowa Democrat tops Ernst in third-quarter fundraising for Senate race MORE (D-Iowa) and Mike KellyGeorge (Mike) Joseph KellyAlcohol industry races to save tax break by year-end deadline Democrats ramp up oversight efforts over 'opportunity zone' incentive Genetic counselors save health care dollars when involved in the testing process MORE (R-Pa.), the legislation would authorize CMS to recognize certified genetic counselors as health-care providers and reimburse certified genetic counselors for services delivered to Medicare beneficiaries at 85 percent of physician payment levels for the same services. 

Research demonstrates that genetic counselors save health care dollars when involved in the testing process and can increase compliance with the recommended medical management plan — all priorities as personalized medicine and genetic testing become more prevalent. 

The National Society of Genetic Counselors, as well as more than 200 organizations, patients and health-care providers, strongly encourages Congress to enact the Access to Genetic Counselor Services Act, which can make a critical impact on the health of individuals and their families.

Amy Sturm is the president of the National Society of Genetic Counselors' Board of Directors and a professor and the director of Cardiovascular Genomic Counseling at the Geisinger Health System Genomic Medicine Institute.