“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,” Dr. Patrick Conway, chief medical officer for the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services, said in a press release.
Lung cancer is especially deadly because it doesn’t cause symptoms until it’s too late, killing nearly 160,000 people a year, according to the American Cancer Society.
This new preventive coverage will allow Medicare to pay for a once-a-year, low-dose CT exam for people aged 55-77 who are either current smokers, have quit smoking within the last 15 years or who have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years, or the equivalent and have a written order from a doctor, reports Maggie Fox of NBC News.
Some doctors question how many people will benefit from the test, which costs $250 to $300, and have voiced concerns that it doesn’t always produce clear results, causing patients to endure further testing than might turn out to have been unnecessary. Federal officials disagree, and experts say it will prevent as many 20 percent of U.S. deaths from lung cancer, “making it akin to mammograms and colonoscopies in terms of saving lives,” Fox reports.