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The researchers crunched numbers on nearly 88,000 Medicare patients with advanced cancer. Most of the patients (61 percent) had lung cancer. Others had cancers of the colon, pancreas, esophagus and breast.
All were 65 or older and had been diagnosed between 1998 and 2005. On average, they lived less than two years following diagnosis.
The researchers excluded screening tests during the first two months after a cancer diagnosis to make sure they weren't mislabeling tests that helped in the diagnosis.
Medicare pays roughly $130 for a mammogram, $25 for a PSA test, $30 for a Pap test and from $300 to $700 for a colonoscopy.
Fixing the problem wouldn't mean huge savings for Medicare, Sima said, because few patients are involved. And while it might make scientific sense, it would be politically unworkable for Medicare to stop paying for cancer screening for patients with less than two years' life expectancy, she and others said.
Brody said the early screening message has been so successful that people think they're being deprived of "something of great value" when overtesting is discussed.
And politicians have seized on the issue with talk of "government getting between you and your doctor," Brody said. Sensible health policies will depend on voters to "smarten up to the point where this demagoguery no longer works," he said.
Copyright 2010 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.
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