The other day, in conversation with a newly minted medical school graduate, he told me low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) was dangerous. Dangerous! If LDCT is dangerous, what is late discovery of lung cancer? He nearly fainted when I told him I had perhaps more than 40 CT scans in my treatment history, telling me I was a candidate for radiation induced cancer. It didn’t seem to register that I was a candidate for extinction by lung cancer.
We are told the only effective way of treating our disease is early discovery. Few dispute this point. Why then would the Center for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) want to reduce reimbursement for low-dose computed tomography (LDCT) screening by more than 40 percent? The Society of Thoracic Surgeons is concerned calling LDCT a “game changer in the battle against lung cancer.”
Then I read: “Family physicians lack sufficient knowledge about recommendations for LDCT." Moreover, Doctors Patz and Chen, professors of radiology at Duke, say: “Not screening patients annually could save millions in health care costs and spare patients the radiation exposure and downstream effects of false positive screenings.” Something is very wrong. We have an effective tool for early discovery of life-threatening disease when not discovered early, and there is a campaign mounted against using it.
CMS is a federal government-funded agency. In government programs there is a big difference between savings (cash you can put in the bank) and avoidance (cash spent elsewhere). CMS money is appropriated in broad categories. Once appropriated, fiscal managers move money around to address other needs or requirements. Appropriated federal funds are almost never returned to the Treasury. So the reduced funding for LDCT will be a bill payer for some other CMS program. No money is saved; it is spent on something else.
Further, when making a valid cost avoidance argument, one must identify all cost. For example, the professors of radiology predicting savings for reduced screening do not identify the millions of dollars of increased cost for treating late-stage-diagnosed lung cancer. A cost avoided almost always results in cost added somewhere else, and without disclosing added burden, professionals are making very unprofessional arguments.
Lastly, and most importantly, no one advocating reducing LDCT is considering the most important impact—suffering. There is a vast amount with late-stage diagnosis. Suffering affects more than the lung cancer survivor; it devastates families. While real and detrimental, suffering defies quantification in dollars. Several hundreds-of-thousands of us in the United States will suffer a late-stage lung cancer diagnosis this year. LDCT can eliminate some of this.
In this light, it is hard to understand the assault against using LDCT to find, fix, and finish lung cancer!
Stay the course.