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Testing for Lung Disease: The Cost and Aftermath

Posted Sep 22 2008 10:38pm

What does it cost to test for lung disease?


Charges for each of these tests vary across the country, but here are some ranges. Now, before you get all excited about the charges, thinking that your hospital or doctor’s office is rolling in cash, keep in mind that Medicare and most other insurers pay what they want, and that is usually just a small fraction of the original charge. Most of the cost of a test is then written off as a loss by the hospital, office, or clinic. Some of these tests can be done through your local health department at a significantly lower cost.

  • Colonoscopy: $800.00 - $4,000.00
  • Mammogram: $350.00
  • Pulmonary Function Screen (Spirometry): $40.00
  • Pulmonary Function Complete: $500.00 – $950.00

What gives?


So, why aren’t lung diseases being given their due? This article by Maggie Fox, Health and Science Editor for Reuters, might shed some light. Here are a few excerpts from her excellent article, Lung Cancer Patients Fight Stigma.

"I'm sorry. You don't have breast cancer," the oncologist told Charmaine Atkenson.

The 48-year-old mother of two had something far worse – stage 4 lung cancer. It had spread to her spine, bursting the bone open. It was not only a sentence of death; it was a judgment…”

Even though Atkenson never smoked, she felt almost ashamed. "I found that I never would even say what kind of cancer I had. Or I would always start by saying I never smoked and I never lived with a smoker."

The article goes on to quote Dr. Joan Schiller, who says, "They [lung cancer patients] feel ashamed of their cancer. They feel guilty about their cancer.” Schiller published a study last year in the Journal of Thoracic Oncology showing that primary care doctors were less likely to send lung cancer patients to a cancer specialist than patients with other types of cancer, and says also that less money is spent on lung cancer research than on other cancers. Doctors, researchers and even patients are not pressing as hard for better therapies as they do for other cancers.” In 2006, the National Cancer Institute estimated it spent $1,638 per lung cancer death, compared to $13,519 per breast cancer death and $11,298 per prostate cancer death.


It’s so easy to blame lung cancer and COPD on that dirty habit, cigarette smoking. Somehow, it might make the non-smoker feel better… maybe even safer. After all, if you don’t smoke, that’s one nasty disease you don’t have to worry about, right? Not true. Risk factors of lung cancer and COPD also include air pollution, second-hand smoke, history of childhood respiratory infections and heredity. Occupational exposure to certain industrial pollutants also increases the risk for lung cancer and COPD.  One study revealed that COPD attributed to work was estimated as 19.2% overall and 31.1% among never smokers. (Source: American Lung Association)


Where is COPD in the big picture?


Breast cancer is a shining example of a campaign that has lead to enormous awareness of a dreadful disease, leading to increased screening and significant research funding. Breast cancer survivors are on television, looking healthy, triumphantly waving banners and asking for more funds for research. We see the walks, the race, the ribbons, and we hear the songs. It’s pink, pink, pink. Even kitchen appliances now are the color of Pepto-Bismol (which I do not at all get), but maybe that’s just me. Nonetheless, it works, and that’s what matters most.But, where are the people with COPD and lung cancer? Where’s the compassion for the combat veteran who was given free cigarettes to stay awake in the foxhole? And, what about the missionary who had multiple pneumonias as a child and contracted tuberculosis on the other side of the world, leading to a cascade of lung destruction? And what about the grandma who, on her way to school as a child, walked past factories and their toxic gases? In the "big picture" of health awareness and screening are they as warmly embraced as the businessman with colon cancer or the soccer mom with breast cancer? They’re suffering too, more than anyone. Smoker or not, we’ve got to stop copping out by smugly saying "it’s all their fault." Let’s stop the blame game and get on with leveling the field when it comes to screening, awareness, and funding for research.


By the way, they found five polyps in me, and I am completely and utterly non-symptomatic. I’m so glad they have this protocol, and I’m fortunate to have health insurance that will cover part of the cost of the test. Next, I’ve got to get on the ball and schedule my mammogram that was due last month.


And so should you. Talk with your doc about screening for colon, breast, and prostrate cancer. It’s good for you to know about these things, and to do all you can do to stay healthy. But, while you’re at it, talk with your doc about screening for COPD and lung cancer. It would be good for you or someone you love take a few minutes to blow a loop for healthy lungs.
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