March 9, 2017 - March is National Colorectal Cancer Awareness Month and starting this month Hope Medical Community Center is offering free colorectal cancer screenings.
Through a partnership with the American Cancer Society and UT Health Northeast these screenings are able to be offered through a large cancer research grant. The hope is, with the assistance of this grant funding, to be able to offer everyone in East Texas age 50-75 the ability to be screened for colorectal cancer.
According to Mike Belgard, PA-C with Hope Medical, he was approached by a representative of the American Cancer Society offering to participate in this program and his interest was peaked. His interest was even greater when he was informed it's free.
"About three weeks ago they came in and we got it all straight and so we have partnered with the University of Texas and American Cancer Society for free colorectal cancer screening, and treatment if they find cancer for anyone in the state of Texas who goes through this program," said Belgard.
Belgard said the only costs to the patient would include the initial consult at the clinic of around $30, possibly contrast material for a CT scan of about $15-$20 at UT Tyler. Fuel voucher will be offered for patients that are having to travel to Tyler to help with fuel costs.
"If they detect polyps, or cancer and you have to have surgery, chemotherapy, radiation therapy, 100% paid for irregardless of your socioeconomic income. So, whether you're a millionaire who is uninsured or under insured, or if you are the guy that's living in a box and you qualify, meet the criteria, it's for you," said Belgard.
According to Belgard if something is found, every bit of treatment and therapy is 100% paid. A lot of times for programs offering a service like this there can be limitations on how many participants can qualify, Belgard says there is no limitation on how many patients can be entered into the program.
"We're the only ones that are partnering with them because of our patient demographics, but it doesn't matter who your doctor is or whatever," said Belgard. "Anyone age 50-75, which is a pretty large range, who has never had a positive colonoscopy in the past. It's all for screening originally, so if you have, say you had a colonoscopy 10 years ago and you had polyps that were removed, or a cancer removed, you don't qualify for this thing it's for new, it's to catch new stuff."
There are two tests involved and from what Belgard says, for the $30 price of a consultation, if cancer is found the patient will then get around $200,000 worth of treatment free.
Belgard explained the process and he said the patient will initially provide a stool specimen via the FIT test, which he says can help a lab determine if someone is a high risk individual and if that determination is made, a colonoscopy appointment is made at UT Tyler. According to Belgard, this program is expected to last for around two years, which means someone who may not be eligible for the free program currently would be eligible if they meet the criteria during that time period.
"We're on board with stuff that can help people in East Texas that's free and not low quality, because we're all about high quality at a low price not low quality," said Belgard.
What Belgard says he really likes about the program is the socioeconomic status of an individual doesn't have any bearing on treatment of the patient.
"It's not only no insurance, but it's under insured, so these people who have a $10,000 deductible. It's done on a case by case basis, they make the determination, not us, of if they'll pay for it or not," said Belgard.
In addition to the great opportunity for free colorectal cancer screenings, Belgard stated during March there are some new changes in pricing at Hope Medical Community Center making them able to reduce cost.
"As other places go up on their cost, as of March 1st [we've gone] down on our cost for our self-pay patients. We're dropping all of our prices," said Belgard. "Our highest office visit is $50 for people who pay cash, irregardless of if it's a new patient or an old patient, it's $50 and we've dropped that to $40 as of March 1st. Our lowest cost patient, if that's people who fall below 150% of the poverty level or something like that. Their cost is going down from $30 to $20."
Dropping prices in order to help more people is what Belgard says is the motivation behind the rate decrease, "God's blessed us, and the people of the county have supported us, and we are able to drop our prices so that's what we're going to do."