An actuarial analysis shows that offering lung cancer screening as an insurance benefit would save lives at relatively low cost

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By Marcia S. Sander, Bruce S. Pyenson, Howard Kahn | 11 April 2012

Lung cancer screening is not established as a public health practice, yet the results of a recent large randomized controlled trial showed that screening with low-dose spiral computed tomography reduces lung cancer mortality. Using actuarial models, this study estimated the costs and benefits of annual lung cancer screening offered as a commercial insurance benefit in the high-risk US population ages 50–64. Assuming current commercial reimbursement rates for treatment, we found that screening would cost about $1 per insured member per month in 2012 dollars. The cost per life-year saved would be below $19,000, an amount that compares favorably with screening for cervical, breast, and colorectal cancers. Our results suggest that commercial insurers should consider lung cancer screening of high-risk individuals to be high-value coverage and provide it as a benefit to people who are at least fifty years old and have a smoking history of thirty pack-years or more. We also believe that payers and patients should demand screening from high-quality, low-cost providers, thus helping set an example of efficient system innovation.

This study was published in the April 2012 issue of HealthAffairs.



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