Private Health Insurance: Coverage of Key Colorectal Cancer Screening Tests is Common but Not Universal

GAO-04-713 Published: Jun 17, 2004. Publicly Released: Jul 19, 2004.
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Colorectal cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States. Its mortality can be reduced through early detection and treatment. Four key tests are used to detect the cancer--fecal occult blood test (FOBT), flexible sigmoidoscopy, double-contrast barium enema (DCBE), and colonoscopy. Private health insurance plans generally cover these tests to diagnose cancer; however, the extent to which plans cover the tests for screening purposes--where no symptoms are evident--is less clear. Congress is considering legislation that would require coverage of the tests for screening purposes among all private health insurance plans. GAO was asked to (1) identify the state laws that require private health insurance coverage of these screening tests; and (2) determine the extent to which the tests are covered among small employer, individual, large employer, and federal employee health plans. GAO summarized state laws that require coverage of the tests. GAO examined test coverage among a sample of the largest 19 small employer and 14 individual plans in 10 states without laws requiring the coverage, and among 35 large employer plans nationally. The findings cannot be generalized beyond these plans. GAO also reviewed brochures for 143 federal employee health plans.

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