Feature Story | 1-Mar-2024

This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, AGA urges all Americans to know their screening options and be wary of insurance barriers that could hamper early detection

American Gastroenterological Association

Bethesda, MD (March 1, 2024) - March marks the beginning of Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, a time dedicated to increasing awareness and encouraging prevention of one of the deadliest cancers affecting Americans. The American Cancer Society (ACS) reports that colorectal cancer is the second most common cause of cancer deaths, and it is projected to end the lives of approximately 53,000 Americans in 2024. While death from colorectal cancer is declining among older Americans, disturbingly, it is increasing at an alarming rate in individuals under 50 and among Black and Indigenous Americans.

Because symptoms often don’t appear until the disease has progressed, it is crucial that younger Americans access GI care without delay. The American Gastroenterological Association (AGA) and the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommend that Americans start regular colorectal cancer screenings at age 45. If you have any of the following risk factors, your doctor will advise you start screening at an earlier age: family history of CRC, personal history of polyps, or inflammatory bowel diseases (like Crohn's and ulcerative colitis).

“Regardless of background or family history, everyone needs to make a plan to get screened for colorectal cancer because early detection is crucial. Since colorectal cancer often doesn’t show symptoms until advanced stages, regular screening procedures such as colonoscopies could save your life. This Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month, please speak to your doctor about your medical history, risk factors, and any symptoms you’re experiencing.” said Dr. Barbara Jung, President of AGA.

In addition to getting screened for colorectal cancer, AGA urges patients to understand their insurance coverage and note any potential policies that could threaten their ability to get timely GI care.

Health plans are supposed to cover colorectal cancer screening for individuals 45 or older, but some insurers have erected troubling barriers that could make it more difficult for people to get diagnostic and surveillance colonoscopies and endoscopies. UnitedHealthcare, for example, is poised to require its 27 million commercial beneficiaries to get prior authorization before they can get the diagnostic and surveillance colonoscopies they need. These procedures are a vital part of the screening continuum, so any delays, disruptions, or denials caused by prior authorization could have a serious, adverse impact on patients at a time when colorectal cancer rates and other GI diseases are on the rise.

Another recent example of a serious patient barrier is Blue Cross Blue Shield of Massachusetts (BCBSMA), which attempted to impose restrictive policies that would have forced patients to pay out of pocket for anesthesia used during colonoscopies. AGA has been instrumental in helping overturn this policy and keep colonoscopies for BCBSMA’s beneficiaries accessible.

“Every individual has the right to timely and necessary medical care without interference from insurance providers–especially when it comes to a disease as deadly as colorectal cancer. While we are pleased BCBSMA backed down, which is a major win for patients, we urge UHC to promise its 27 million commercial beneficiaries that it will not impose prior authorization for colonoscopies and endoscopies,” said Dr. Jung.

To understand more about your risks and to talk about your screening options, all Americans should talk with their doctors about colorectal cancer. You can also learn more about colorectal cancer in the AGA GI Patient Center. And, to learn more about the disastrous prior authorization policy UHC plans to roll out in 2024, which threaten patient access to GI care, please visit gastro.org/stopUHC.


Media Contact  

Rebecca Reid 

410-212-3843  rreid@schmidtpa.com 

About AGA Institute  

The American Gastroenterological Association is the trusted voice of the GI community. Founded in 1897, AGA has grown to more than 16,000 members from around the globe who are involved in all aspects of the science, practice, and advancement of gastroenterology. The AGA Institute administers the practice, research, and educational programs of the organization. For more information, visit www.gastro.org.  

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