NEW YORK, April 9 (UPI) -- Lung cancer screening would save thousands at a relatively low cost if routinely covered by commercial healthcare insurers, U.S. researchers said.
Lead author Bruce Pyenson, an actuary and principal at the New York office of Milliman, a consulting and actuarial firm, said lung cancer causes more than 150,000 U.S. deaths each year, yet most insurance companies do not cover screening of high-risk individuals, even though they could pick up early-stage tumors.
The researchers examined the costs and benefits of providing screenings via low-dose spiral computed tomography to smokers and long-term former smokers ages 50 to 64 -- those at high risk of developing lung cancer.
"These results demonstrate the cost efficiency of offering this benefit to people who are at high risk of lung cancer," Pyenson said in a statement. "The evidence of the value of advanced screening technology for lung cancer accumulated to the point where we can show very strong cost-effectiveness for the commercial population. We could also jump the needle on cancer mortality for the first time in years, and do so in a cost-effective manner."
The research team modeled insurer costs -- assuming about 18 million people fell into that high-risk category and about half would get the screening if it were a covered benefit -- at about $180 each and costing insurance companies about $247 per member tested annually.
However, when the total expense of screening was spread over the commercially insured population, the cost was under $1 per insured member per month, Pyenson added.
The findings were published in Health Affairs.