Conference Coverage

Waiving screening copayments could cut colorectal cancer deaths



– Out-of-pocket costs may present a barrier to colorectal screening, and removing those costs could reduce colorectal cancer deaths, according to new data presented at the annual Digestive Disease Week®.

These data imply that removing copayments could result in a 16% decrease in colorectal cancer–related deaths among Medicare beneficiaries, explained lead author Elisabeth Peterse, PhD, of the department of public health, Erasmus Medical Center, Rotterdam, the Netherlands.

The research also demonstrated that waiving copayments is cost effective, she added.

Despite the effectiveness of colorectal cancer screening, only 58% of eligible individuals adhere to current screening recommendations, Dr. Peterse noted. Financial barriers may play a role in the lack of adherence, as studies have found that removing out-of-pocket costs is one of the most effective interventions for increasing screening.

“But despite the fact that the Affordable Care Act has been successful in partially eliminating cost sharing for colorectal screening, Medicare beneficiaries may still face unexpected out-of-pocket liabilities,” said Dr. Peterse.

Out-of-pocket costs can be complicated, given that they can depend largely on how a procedure is coded. A screening colonoscopy or fecal immunochemical test (FIT) is completely covered if it is coded as a screening test, but follow-up colonoscopies come with 20% copayments.

A screening colonoscopy with polypectomy and a follow-up colonoscopy that is done after a positive fecal immunochemical test are coded as diagnostic rather than screening, so the patient has out-of-pocket costs, she explained.

To explore how waiving the cost of screening could impact colorectal cancer–related mortality and cost effectiveness, the researchers conducted an analysis using a microsimulation model for a cohort composed of 65-year-old individuals.

In the simulation, they estimated colorectal cancer–related mortality, quality-adjusted life-years, and total cost of screening and treatment using the current Medicare copayment schedule. These were then compared with outcomes for alternative situations.

The study was conducted in two parts, explained Dr. Peterse. In the first part, the researchers looked at five scenarios: one in which the 20% copayment was intact. In the second, the copayment was waived without having any impact on adherence. In the third, the investigators looked at a 5% increase in adherence but only at diagnostic follow-up.

In the fourth and fifth scenarios, the investigators looked at 5% and 10% increases in adherence, in both first screening and diagnostic follow-up, she added.

In the study’s second part, the researchers also estimated the threshold increase in participation at which copayment removal would be cost effective, using a $50,000 willingness-to-pay threshold.

They found that without screening, the expected mortality would be 25 colorectal deaths per 1,000 people in a population of 65-year-old individuals. With screening, the number was reduced to 12.8 deaths per 1,000 65-year-olds for colonoscopy, and 14.9 deaths per 1,000 for FIT screening. The total associated costs for screening and treatment for the two modalities were $3.02 million and $2.87 million.

If waiving the copayments had no impact in increasing screening levels, the cost of screening was estimated to increase to $3.1 million (2.8% increase) for colonoscopy and $2.9 million (1.6% increase) for FIT.

But if copayments were removed and there were a 5% increase in adherence, colorectal cancer deaths were estimated to decline to 11.7 (–8.3%) and 13.9 (–6.3%) per 1,000 for colonoscopy and FIT, respectively. That would result in cost-effectiveness ratios of $19,288 and $7,894 for no copayment versus having a copayment. Increasing adherence to 10% would result in an even lower ratio, noted Dr. Peterse.

The threshold increase for participating in screening programs – the point where removing a copayment becomes cost effective – was a 1.8% increase in colonoscopy screening and a 0.8% increase for FIT.

The conclusion is that waiving copayments is cost effective, Dr. Peterse said.

Dr. Peterse added that a limitation to the analysis is that the study authors don’t know to what extent patients are even aware of the copayments. “So, we don’t know if it is a barrier, and we didn’t take other insurance scenarios into account,” she said.

Dr. Peterse declared no relevant disclosures.

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