NHRMC paves way for easier access to lung cancer screenings for low-income patients

NHRMC paves way for easier access to lung cancer screenings for low-income patients
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WILMINGTON, N.C. (WECT) - National Lung Cancer Awareness Month kicks off Friday with the arrival of November, and New Hanover Regional Medical Center is hoping their efforts this year will bring more patients in the door for a potentially life-saving screening.

In July, NHRMC learned its efforts to rectify a billing issue with Medicaid were successful, and low-income patients would be able to have a scan looking for signs of lung cancer covered by their insurance.

NHRMC officials realized that while the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force recommends a computed tomography (CT) scan for lung cancer, and both Medicare and private insurance plans cover the test, Medicaid patients were having their claims denied despite the hospital submitting them in the right way.

“We just helped bring this to the state’s attention and worked with them very closely," said Dr. Amy Messier, a family medicine physician and NHRMC chief medical information officer. “Then in July, we found out that they were able to correct the issue so that our patients with Medicaid can actually have this study paid for just like a regular commercially insured patients and our Medicare patients.”

Messier said since implementing the new CT scans, NHRMC has performed roughly 5,800 lung cancer screenings. In doing so, they’ve diagnosed 42 cases of lung cancer — 12 of which were caught at the earliest stage with a 92 percent, five-year survival rate.

“So we can look at that this program and know that we have saved lives and that’s what leading our community to outstanding health is all about,” she said.

She added it’s important that all patients have access to the screening, no matter their income level.

“As we look at health equity and health disparities in our community, as we’re leading our community to outstanding health, identifying the disparity of the coverage of this important screening test is really important to us," she said, "because we want to make sure that all patients are having access to the correct medical care and coverage, and this is just one of the many efforts that we’ve taken in that venue to help lead our community to outstanding health.”

Those who have experienced 30 “pack years” smoking — using one pack per day for 30 years, or two packs per day for 15 years — are encouraged to be screened each year.

For those with Medicaid, a physician referral is required.

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