CT Scanners

CT Colonography Breakthrough

In a major news development this week, CMS proposed to begin Medicare coverage of CT colonography screening – also known as virtual colonoscopy – starting in 2025. The move will give radiology an entree into another of the major cancer screening tests. 

CT colonography has been around for over 30 years as an imaging-based alternative to optical colonoscopy for colorectal cancer screening that produces a virtual fly-through of a patient’s colon that can detect pre-cancerous polyps.

  • CTC has a number of advantages over traditional colonoscopy: patients don’t need to be sedated, and there is lower risk of complications such as bowel perforation. 

But CTC has struggled to gain wider acceptance in the face of fierce resistance from gastroenterologists. 

  • Gastroenterologists typically prefer to steer their patients to optical colonoscopy for cancer screening rather than refer them out for imaging exams.

The USPSTF in 2016 added CT colonography to its list of recommended cancer screening exams. 

  • This led to a 50% jump in virtual colonoscopy exams performed for privately insured patients. 

But as anyone who follows the US healthcare system knows, Medicare is the big enchilada when it comes to reimbursement, and the gastroenterology community has successfully fought off efforts to secure broader payment.

  • This comes in spite of clinical studies showing CT colonography’s effectiveness, and even the widely reported case of President Barack Obama undergoing a CTC screening exam in 2010 as part of his annual physical because it didn’t require sedation.  

But enough ancient history, on to this week’s news. In a proposed rule for the 2025 HOPPS issued on July 10, CMS proposed the following:

  • Remove coverage for barium enema for colorectal cancer screening, as it “no longer meets modern clinical standards”
  • Add coverage for CT colonography, creating Ambulatory Payment Classification (APC) 74261 for CTC without contrast and 74262 for CTC with contrast
  • Reassign CPT code 74263 for CTC/VC from “not payable” to “payable” status 

The Takeaway

This week’s news is a huge win for radiology and indicates that gastroenterology’s stranglehold on colorectal cancer screening is finally beginning to crack. Imaging facilities should begin preparing to offer CT colonography as a less invasive option to optical colonoscopy for Medicare beneficiaries.

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