Can You Get a Colonoscopy Without Health Insurance?

Options for the Uninsured

Intestinal polyps, illustration

Many individuals mistakenly think that no health insurance equals no colonoscopy screening for colon cancer. While this is sometimes the case, there are also many organizations that provide low and no-cost screenings.

Screenings for the Uninsured

Tragically, over 40 million Americans are either uninsured or underinsured. The uninsured have no access to—or cannot afford—health insurance.

The underinsured might have minimal coverage but cannot afford the copayments or wellness plans sometimes affiliated with routine screening exams. Either way, it's been estimated that the majority of these Americans skip their colorectal cancer screening exams altogether; when it's a choice of food and shelter or preventive medicine, a hot meal and roof over the head wins out.

It may not seem that significant—skipping a wellness exam—but facts prove that getting regularly scheduled screening exams, such as the colonoscopy, can save your life and your wallet. Imagine you skip your screening only to be diagnosed with colon cancer in five years. Although this is a worst-case scenario, finding the colon cancer before it metastasizes may save you out-of-pocket expenses for bowel surgery, chemotherapy, and even radiation treatments.

Don't Assume You're Not Eligible for Free Testing

There are literally dozens of organizations working to fund coverage for free screening exams including Fight Colorectal Cancer, Chris4Life, and the Colon Cancer Alliance.

One of the largest funding programs is the Center for Disease Control and Prevention's Colorectal Cancer Control Program (CRCCP). If you meet the federal eligibility requirements and are between 50 to 64 years old, you may be eligible for a free colon cancer screening exam.  

On a state-by-state basis, many health departments and state governments team up to provide low or no cost screening for colorectal cancer in eligible applicants.

Florida, for instance, developed the Screen for Life Program and New York state provides over 4,000 colorectal cancer screening exams annually through the New York State Cancer Services Program.

Call Your Local Health Department

Your local health department will know if there is any low or no-cost screening available in your area. They might also have a listing of gastroenterologists who provide services to the under or uninsured, know of state-funded programs, and help you learn if you are eligible for these programs or not.

Not an Emergency Service

The majority of these screening services are not available to anyone who is actively suffering symptoms suggestive of colon cancer or who has a history of cancer. Furthermore, these reduced-fee services may not be available to people with a strong family history of colon cancer. If you are having symptoms—including rectal bleeding or irregular bowel movements—see your local health clinic.

Don't Give Up

If you are not eligible for any of the government promotional health programs, you might still be able to find assistance through the American Cancer Society or the National Cancer Institute. The ACS can be reached at 1-800-ACS-2345 and the NCI number is 1-800-422-6237.

Don't forget about your own doctor—he or she may be able to provide the names and contact information for local gastroenterologists who are willing to help. Especially in March of each year, many gastroenterologists arrange screening clinics for National Colon Cancer Awareness Month.

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