Does Medicare Cover a Colonoscopy?

Medicare Benefits Solutions

Dec 1, 2021

For anyone at high risk of developing colon cancer, Medicare will cover the cost of colonoscopy screenings once every 24 months (2 years). The procedure is considered preventative care and is covered under Part B. For anyone not at high risk, Medicare covers the test once every 120 months (10 years), or 48 months (4 years) after getting a flexible sigmoidoscopy.

Medicare Coverage for Colonoscopy Screening

But, exactly what is a colonoscopy and why would you need it? A colonoscopy enables your doctor to view the inside of your colon and rectum. The procedure is usually performed by a gastroenterologist on an outpatient basis, primarily to detect or diagnose colon or rectal cancer or other serious conditions.

Colon cancer and rectal cancer have many features in common. The overarching term is colorectal cancer. When precancerous growths and colorectal cancer are found early, treatment tends to be the most effective. 

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When to Schedule Your First Screening?

The American Cancer Society (ACS) “recommends that people at average risk of colorectal cancer start regular screening at age 45.”

Between 2013 and 2017, colorectal cancer dropped about 1% annually, mostly among older adults. The ACA attributes the declining rate to healthy lifestyle changes and screenings.

Are you wondering, how often does Medicare pay for colonoscopy? Medicare benefits include various types of colorectal cancer screenings.

TIP: Read our companion article and discover if Medicare covers Cologuard.

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Colorectal Cancer Screenings

Medicare Part B covers colonoscopy screenings according to the following schedule:

  • Every 10 years, no minimum age requirement
  • Every 24 months, if you are in a high-risk category
  • Every 48 months, if you have previously had a flexible sigmoidoscopy

Medicare also covers these screenings:

  • Multi-target stool DNA test
  • Fecal occult blood test
  • Flexible sigmoidoscopy
  • Barium enema

Routine colonoscopies are at no cost to you if you use a participating Medicare healthcare provider. Participating providers must accept the Medicare-approved amount paid to them directly. 

In the course of a routine procedure, your doctor may find and remove a polyp. In that case, you may be responsible for:

  • 20% of the cost for your doctor’s services based on the Medicare-approved payment
  • Copayment to the hospital outpatient facility

TIP: Use our plan finder to discover which plans offer Medicare colonoscopy coverage and other diagnostic procedures. 

Diagnostic Colonoscopy

Your doctor may prescribe a colonoscopy if you experience one of the following:

  • Anal bleeding
  • Bowel changes
  • Abdominal pain
  • Weight loss not attributable to other causes

If your doctor orders a diagnostic colonoscopy versus a preventive screening, your Medicare benefits may fall under outpatient surgery. In that case, you are responsible for the Part B deductible as well as the 20% coinsurance and hospital outpatient facility copay.

TIP: Learn if you need a prescription for Ostomy Supplies.

The Cost of a Colonoscopy

Your cost may vary with the:

  • Technique, such as snare, endoscope, biopsy forceps, or band ligation
  • Purpose, for example, screening versus removal of a polyp, tumor, or other lesions

If you have Part B, the following examples apply when you use participating doctors and outpatient settings. These are the national average out-of-pocket costs paid to the facility and physician:

  • Low-risk screening of the large bowel using an endoscope: $0
  • Removal of a lesion using a sigmoidoscope through which the doctor inserts a thin metal snare: $155 if done in an ambulatory surgical center or $258 if done in a hospital outpatient unit

TIP: Learn all about Medicare basics and how to get the most out of your health insurance.

Coverage for Colonoscopy Medications

Most colonoscopy procedures will require that your bowels and large intestine be emptied prior to the exam. This is so that no fecal matter or undigested food blocks the scope or obscures the scope’s view.

In order to make this process more efficient, most people undergoing a colonoscopy will be instructed to take a laxative prior to the day of the procedure. If this laxative is ordered by prescription, Medicare Part D may provide coverage. If you purchase a laxative over the counter, you may be responsible for the total cost of the purchase.

Any medications administered during the course of the colonoscopy, including sedatives, will be covered by Medicare as part of the outpatient procedure itself. If medications are required after a colonoscopy to treat any conditions found during the procedure, Medicare Part D would apply toward these drugs as long as they are listed in your plan’s formulary and are purchased from a retail pharmacy for home use.

TIP: Discover the pros and cons of e-prescribing for seniors.

Colonoscopy Resources

If you have Medicare Advantage, review your plan materials to determine the benefits and out-of-pocket costs that apply to your plan.

To research colorectal procedures, you may want to include these resources in your research: 

TIP: Download a copy of our Top 7 Reasons to Switch Your Medicare Advantage Plan guide.

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