Medicare will now cover lung cancer screenings by low-dose CT scans for members between 55 and 77 years old, according to a Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services announcement.
The public insurer previously proposed to approve the low-dose scans for its members, despite receiving a negative recommendation from an internal review panel, FierceMedicalImaging previously reported.
CMS made one major change in its final recommendation, however, by raising the age limit from 74 to 77 years old.
"This is the first time that Medicare has covered lung cancer screening," CMS Chief Medical Officer Patrick Conway in the statement. "This is an important new Medicare preventive benefit since lung cancer is the third most common cancer and the leading cause of cancer deaths in the United States."
The decision comes with some controversy. Many question whether enough people will actually benefit from the expensive scans, which cost as much as $300 and look for evidence of early lung cancer, NBC News reported. Other experts say the screenings could prevent up to 20 percent of deaths from lung cancer--roughly the same as mammograms and colonoscopies.
According to its announcement, Medicare will pay for one low-dose CT scan each year for eligible members. This includes those who are current smokers, who have quit smoking within the last 15 years or who have a history of smoking one pack of cigarettes a day for 30 years.
Medicare also requires that members receive a written order from their doctor, explaining that they already underwent counseling about the screening, before they can undergo the test.