Does Medicare Cover Screenings for Skin Cancer? 

Your skin is an organ within an overarching system that includes hair and nails, which protects your internal environment. By regulating body temperature and generating sensory information, such as pleasure and pain, skin helps you respond appropriately to your external environment, removing your hand from a hot surface, for example. Because your skin has massive exposure to infection, injury and disease, it is highly vulnerable to damage.

Skin conditions may involve only the top layer, such as warts and age spots, while others indicate conditions beneath the surface, sometimes involving internal organs. Skin issues can occur with trauma, pollutants, allergies and stress. According to the American Academy of Dermatology, skin cancer is an abnormal growth of skin cells, usually caused by harmful sun rays but treatable when detected early.

Skin cancer screening procedure

Dermatologists perform skin cancer screenings, also known as full-body scans, by systematically examining bare skin from head to toe, looking for any abnormalities suggestive of cancer or pre-cancer. Before the exam, bring any skin changes you’ve noticed to the doctor’s attention. A standard exam with no unusual findings should be quick and painless. Typically, the dermatologist performs a biopsy of any suspect areas.

Body scan recommendations

Some people schedule annual skin cancer screenings. Your dermatologist may recommend preventive exams if you have a history of skin cancer or precancer, severe sunburns, melanoma in the family, usage of tanning beds, atypical moles or ongoing sun exposure. 

However, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force concluded there is insufficient evidence to recommend routine full-body exams for early detection, though this may not apply to people with suspicious spots or a history of skin cancer. 

The CDC suggests talking to your doctor about your risk, regularly performing a self-examination and alerting your physician if you observe unusual skin changes.

Medicare-covered cancer screenings

Medicare Part B (medical insurance) covers visits to your doctor for medically necessary services. Medicare does not deem annual skin cancer screenings medically necessary, so routine exams are not covered. However, you can use Part B benefits for an office visit to check suspicious moles or other spots and for the laboratory testing of tissue specimens if a biopsy is in order.

Your cost-sharing for the doctor visit is 20% of the Medicare-approved charges after you meet the Part B deductible. Generally, you pay nothing for lab tests when you use a Medicare-participating healthcare provider. If you have a Medicare Supplement plan, check your policy for coverage of the deductible and coinsurance. 

Medicare Advantage members may have extended benefits and different cost-sharing than Original Medicare. Check your plan summary and Evidence of Coverage for Medicare Advantage benefit details.  

How to find free skin cancer screenings

The American Academy of Dermatology (AAD) offers free skin cancer screenings as part of a public health program. Dermatologists volunteer their time to perform the exams throughout the year. Go to the AAD website to find out if free screenings are available in your area. If the program does not serve your location now, you can sign up for alert notifications should the program expand access.

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