for Medicare recipients.
According to the final decision, announced February 10, CMS will lower the age for screening from 55 to 50 years up to 77 years and reduce criteria for tobacco smoking history from at least 30 pack-years to 20 pack-years. The expanded Medicare recommendation will address racial disparities associated with lung cancer, given evidence that one third of Black patients are diagnosed with lung cancer before age 55.
The updated CMS guidelines align closely with recommendations made by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) in March 2021. The USPSTF expanded its guidelines for screening to include individuals ages 50 to 80 years, as well as those who have a 20–pack-year smoking history and who currently smoke or have quit within the past 15 years.
Overall, the expanded guidelines will nearly double the number of individuals who are eligible for screening and have the potential to save significantly more lives by identifying cancers at an earlier, more treatable stage.
“Expanding coverage broadens access for lung cancer screening to at-risk populations,” said Lee Felisher, MD, CMS chief medical officer and director of the Center for Clinical Standards and Quality, in a statement. “Today’s decision not only expands access to quality care but is also critical to improving health outcomes for people by helping to detect lung cancer earlier.”
CMS’s decision also simplifies requirements for counseling and shared decision-making visits and removes an initial requirement for the reading radiologist to document participation in continuing medical education, which will reduce administrative burden. CMS also added a requirement back to the National Coverage Determination criteria that requires radiology imaging facilities to use a standardized lung nodule identification, classification, and reporting system.
The American Lung Association applauds the decision to update eligibility.
“[The] announcement from CMS will give more people enrolled in Medicare access to lifesaving lung cancer screening. Screening for individuals at high risk is the only tool to catch this disease early when it is more curable,” Harold Wimmer, president and CEO of the American Lung Association, said in a statement. “Unfortunately, only 5.7% of people who are eligible have been screened, so it’s important that we talk with our friends and family who are at high risk about getting screened.”
While access to screening will significantly increase, the American Lung Association recommends CMS go a step further and expand eligibility to individuals up to 80 years of age, as the USPSTF recommendations do, as well as remove the recommendation that individuals cease screening once they have stopped smoking for 15 years.
Given the new guidelines, most private insurance plans will need to update screening coverage policies to reflect the updated guidelines for plan years beginning after March 31.
To read the final decision, visit the CMS website.
A version of this article first appeared on Medscape.com.