The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force — a government-backed panel of scientists and medical professionals charged with prescribing which preventative health care services Americans should pursue — recommended on Monday that heavy smokers get a yearly CT scan in order to check for lung cancer. The task force believes the screenings could save as many as 20,000 lives per year. And thanks to the Affordable Care Act, at-risk Americans will be able to get them for free.
Obamacare stipulates that insurers must cover any procedure that the Preventive Services Task Force strongly recommends without any cost to the consumer. So Americans who meet the threshold set by the panel — smokers aged 55 to 80 who have smoked the equivalent of a pack a day for 30 years, irrespective of whether they have quit — won’t have to pay the $170 that it costs to get a CT scan. Hospitals will also begin making the annual scans for heavy smokers the regular standard of care thanks to the new recommendations, which will affect approximately 10 million Americans, according to the New York Times.
More people die from lung cancer than from any other type of cancer. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) estimates that over 125,000 Americans die from smoking-related lung cancer every year. An additional 3,400 Americans die from lung cancer they develop as a consequence of exposure to secondhand smoke.
The panel members believe that the preventative screenings could prevent as many as 14 percent of yearly lung cancer deaths by detecting the disease at a stage when it can still be effectively treated. Doctors say that the more expensive CT scans are a more accurate way of catching lung cancer than more common chest X-rays.
In the past year, recommendations by the Preventive Task Force (combined with the Obamacare requirement barring out-of-pocket costs for those procedures) have made HIV screenings free for all Americans aged 15 to 65, and domestic violence screenings free for all women aged 14 to 46.