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Statements on Introduced Bills and Joint Resolutions

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STATEMENTS ON INTRODUCED BILLS AND JOINT RESOLUTIONS

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By Mr. BIDEN:

S. 2915. A bill to amend title 10, United States Code, to improve screening for colorectal cancer for TRICARE beneficiaries over the age of 50; to the Committee on Armed Services.

Mr. BIDEN. Mr. President, today I am pleased to introduce a simple bill that would give military dependents and retirees the same choices for colon cancer screening that every Medicare beneficiary and every Federal employee enjoys. This legislation requires Tricare to abandon its overly restrictive and outdated policy of limiting coverage of screening colonoscopy to a small group of high-risk individuals. By contrast, for several years both Medicare and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program have paid for screening colonoscopy to detect cancer in average-risk people, and my bill simply applies this same standard to the Tricare program.

Why is this bill so important? Colon cancer is highly curable when detected and treated early but extremely lethal when it reaches an advanced stage. Early detection and prompt treatment are the keys to surviving colon cancer. Among those whose colon cancer has been cured by modern diagnostic and treatment methods are President Reagan, Supreme Court Justice Ginsburg, and our colleague Senator Burns, to name just a few.

Why is access to colonoscopy so critical? At present, gastroenterologists overwhelmingly recommend colonoscopy as the preferred method to use for screening of colon cancer in average risk individuals over 50. Colonoscopy is more sensitive than other methods of screening in detecting colonic neoplasia, pre-cancerous changes or full-blown cancers, at an early stage; colonoscopy is more reliable in finding colonic neoplasia in the upper 2/3 of the colon; and colonoscopy permits biopsy and removal of abnormal tissue as soon as it is discovered, in a single procedure. In fact, medical specialists refer to colonoscopy as the ``gold standard'' for colon cancer screening.

Since, 2001, the Medicare Program has permitted the use of colonoscopy to screen for colon cancer in ``average risk'' individuals, and the Federal Employees Health Benefits Program has used the same criteria since 2003. But the Tricare medical program for military beneficiaries clings to an outmoded policy that authorizes screening colonoscopy to detect colon cancer only for only a very narrowly defined group of ``high risk'' people, not the much broader group of ``average risk'' individuals covered by the Medicare and FEHBP programs. By failing to keep up with modern medical practice, as well as with other federal health programs, Tricare seems to be inappropriately restricting access to a potentially lifesaving tool for early cancer detection. The resulting unnecessary delay in detection of colon cancer puts our military community at needless risk.

To remedy this situation, my bill requires the Tricare program to use the same criteria as the Medicare program in paying for screening colonoscopy. My bill does not mandate that screening colonoscopy be used for colon cancer detection in Tricare beneficiaries; that decision is left to Tricare patients and their doctors. Rather, this legislation simply affords Tricare participants the same options that Federal employees and Medicare beneficiaries have enjoyed for some time.

Frankly, I see no logical reason why those who have served our country in uniform for over 20 years, and the family members of those currently on active duty, should not have access to the same high-quality medical choices offered to our senior citizens and to our Federal workers. The policy on colon cancer screening that has worked well for 42 million Medicare beneficiaries and 9 million FEHBP participants, a policy that is endorsed by most medical specialists, seems totally appropriate for the Tricare population. It is time to bring the Tricare program's colon cancer screening criteria into the 21st century.

Mr. President, I encourage my colleagues to join me in supporting this commonsense legislation

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