Lawmakers Push for Insurance Companies to Cover Heart Scans

Four lawmakers urged insurance carriers to pay for coronary calcium scans. From left: State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor; State Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield; State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton; and State Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock (CT Examiner).

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HARTFORD — A group of state lawmakers is pushing for private insurance companies to cover the costs of coronary calcium scans, a test which helps detect signs of heart disease.

“Today, we stand before you to shed light on a medical advancement that has revolutionized the detection and prevention of heart disease: the coronary CT calcium score,” State Sen. Heather Somers, R-Groton, said during a news conference at the State Capitol on Wednesday. “Heart disease remains one of the leading causes of death worldwide, claiming millions of lives each year.”

Somers, the ranking member of the Public Health Committee, is introducing a measure requiring insurance companies in the state pay for the test. Members of both parties have expressed support for the proposal. 

Joining Somers were State Sen. Saud Anwar, D-South Windsor, State Sen. Jeff Gordon, R-Woodstock, and State Sen. Stephen Harding, R-Brookfield. Anwar, a pulmonary physician, and Gordon, a oncologist and hematologist, are the only two doctors in the state Legislature.

The four lawmakers noted that Medicaid covers the cost of a computerized tomography scan of the heart, also known as a CT scan, but that most insurance companies in the state do not cover the test. The noninvasive procedure takes just a few minutes and could show coronary artery disease before an individual has symptoms.

Somers said the test cost ranges from $100 to $400, depending on the facility at which it’s taken. According to the American Heart Association, cardiovascular disease is the top killer of women in the United States each year. According to the AHA, 44 percent of women 20 years and older are living with some form of cardiovascular disease.

Calcium test scores range from zero to more than 1,000 and can tell an individual how much calcium is in their coronary arteries. According to the Cleveland Clinic, any score above zero means there is some evidence of coronary artery disease, and higher scores indicate a person could be at risk for a heart attack.

Anwar, co-chair of the Public Health Committee, said doing nothing about the issue is no longer an option. 

“There’s a cost of doing something, and there is a cost of not doing something,” Anwar said. “Right now, it’s very clear that the cost of not performing the CT scan for calcium scores is far more than the cost of doing it. … On Valentine’s Day where we talk about the heart, we need to commit ourselves to focus on making sure that we protect the hearts of our constituents.”

Gordon said the beauty of the CT scan is that it’s quick, noninvasive and preventative.

“I’m a big fan of preventative medicine, something that is proven, like the coronary calcium scan. We can find out about people’s risks early, we can intervene, and when you intervene early, you save lives and help people live longer,” Gordon said. “… If Medicaid covers it, as it does in this state, there is no reason why private insurance should not cover it as well.”

Joyce Oen-Hsiao, associate professor of internal medicine in the cardiology division at the Yale New Haven Health Heart and Vascular Center, told CT Examiner that the test is for those with low to moderate risk of heart disease, which can be indicated by family history.

Oen-Hsiao, who did not attend the news conference, said those who score between 100 and 300 — meaning a moderate amount of plaque in the arteries — will, in all likelihood, be advised to either take medicine or improve their lifestyle habits through exercise and a better diet. Those with very high scores, she said, might need to be treated with a stent.

Oen-Hsiao said individuals should start taking the test around age 40 and, if they are in the low to moderate risk range, should retake the test every five years. She said men will usually experience heart disease, or the onset of it, sooner than women.

Somers said she’s optimistic that the bill, which needs to pass through the Public Health and Insurance committees, has a good chance of advancing in the current short session.

She said she’s reaching out to everyone, but especially women, urging them to take the test.

“We [women] are the worst [about getting medical care] because we tend to put everybody else’s health in front of ours,” Somers said. “I know people might say they do not have the time, but this test, like with a mammogram, lets you be in and out in 15 minutes.”


Robert Storace

Robert Storace is a veteran reporter with stints at New Britain Herald, the New Haven Register, the Connecticut Post, Hartford Business Journal and the Connecticut Law Tribune. Storace covers the State Capitol for CT Examiner. T: 203 437 5950

Robert.Storace@ctexaminer.com