Medicare to pay for lung cancer screenings

Medicare is moving to cover lung cancer screenings for older people who have a history of smoking at least one pack of cigarettes per day.

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) had previously announced its decision to provide the CT scan coverage in November. The agency issued its final national coverage determination on Thursday, prompting praise from advocates who said thousands of lives would be saved.

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"This is the first time that Medicare has covered lung cancer screening," said CMS Chief Medical Officer Dr. Patrick Conway in a statement. "This is an important new Medicare preventive benefit since lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States."

Medicare beneficiaries will have to meet specific criteria in order to qualify for screenings, which will cost nothing to recipients: they must be between ages 55 and 77, receive a written order from a physician, and have a history of smoking at least one pack a day for 30 years.

While Medicare is typically only available to people 65 and older, some people receive it earlier due to disabilities and will also qualify for the screenings.

The Medical Imaging and Technology Alliance, a trade group, praised the decision as a "triumph" for Medicare beneficiaries.

“Given the high bar CMS holds in making national coverage determinations, it is clear that the benefits of [CT] scans for those at high risk of lung cancer are indisputable," said Gail Rodriguez, executive director of MITA, in a statement.