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Lung CT Scans for Heavy Smokers to be Covered by Large Health Insurer

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The health insurance company Wellpoint announced it will cover lung CT scans for certain current and former heavy smokers, after a government-funded study found that the screening test was associated with a 20 percent decrease in lung cancer deaths.

Wellpoint, which covers 34 million Americans, says it will cover beneficiaries who have smoked at least a pack a day for 30 years, and are between the ages of 55 and 74, among other traits, The Wall Street Journal reports. The company based its decision on the results of the National Lung Screening Trial.

“This was the first time a really well-done study showed you could save lives by screening with this technique,” John Whitney, a WellPoint medical director, told the newspaper. He added the company thinks “the evidence only supports screening for the population they studied and showed a benefit in.” He noted the downsides to CT scanning for lung cancer include exposing patients to radiation, as well as the risk of false positives.

WellPoint says it will cover yearly scans for three years, the article notes. Whitney said the policy is likely to evolve as more evidence about CT scanning for lung cancer becomes available.

Currently, other major insurers including Cigna, Aetna, and UnitedHealth Group are not covering CT scans for lung cancer detection, the newspaper notes.

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