Proposed Medicare cut may put patients at risk

September 17, 2009 11:09:13 AM PDT
Colonoscopies are credited with dropping colon cancer deaths by a third. Now some fear, fewer people on Medicare will have access to this life saving test if a proposed cut by congress for colonoscopies, brain scans and other scans is passed.This bill is unrelated to the current Obama health care bill.

Connie Lair is about to have a colonoscopy.

"I plan on living a good many more years and I want to be healthy during those years," said Lair.

She's 78, and in some countries her age would prevent her from getting the cancer screening test but not here.

"What we achieve with screening is to prolong life and patients who are older, who are in good health they should be screened like any other patients," said Gastroenterologist, Dr. Radwan Al-Sabbagh.

Dr. Al-Sabbagh performed Mrs. Lair's colonoscopy.

"So far no problem," he said.

But just minutes before the short procedure was over he found two polyps. They had not yet turned into cancer.

"They are very small in size," said Dr. Al-Sabbagh.

Finding the two polyps made this a lifesaving procedure for Mrs. Lair. But some worry that others may not have access to this kind of cancer screening.

"I feel like I'm here today because I had that access to those scans," said Vicki Barrilleaux, a colon cancer survivor.

Barrilleaux survived colon cancer but her sister died of it.

"I'm concerned about the future for my children, and my sister's children," she said.

Barrilleaux is worried about a proposed Medicare cost cut which would reduce access to scans including colonoscopies, and CAT scans.

"What is concerning about this is that often times insurance will follow the lead of Medicare," said Barrilleaux.

Dr. Al-Sabbagh too is concerned.

"The surgery centers and endoscopy centers see about 50 percent of the patients who need to be screened," he said. "If they cut the reimbursement it will close the centers and make more pressure in the hospitals to accommodate these patients."

That could mean waits for the screening test, and delays in finding cancer.

"It doesn't make any sense," said Barrilleaux.

"I was a nurse and I believe in the medical profession taking care of us and if they're not allowed to, they can't do that," said Lair.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter.

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