GUEST POST: Time for Congress to Save Lives During National Colorectal Cancer Month 

By John Morrison

Morrison is the former Montana Commissioner of Securities and Insurance. He lives in Helena.

A simple medical screening could have saved my dad’s life. Frank B. Morrison, Jr. lived and worked in Montana as a lawyer, judge, businessman and community leader for 36 years, including seven years on the Montana Supreme Court. He was fortunate always to have health insurance and had the benefit of good family genes. But, dad died unexpectedly at age 68 from something that could have been prevented – colorectal cancer.

Colorectal cancer is the second most commonly diagnosed cancer in the country, and it’s the second leading cause of cancer death. This year, nearly 50,000 Americans will die from it, including about 170 Montanans.

What’s equally as frustrating, is that colorectal cancer is one of the most preventable cancers. Half these deaths could be prevented yearly if everyone over 50 had access to and received the recommended screening. Colorectal cancer usually develops as a noncancerous growth, or polyp. These polyps can be identified and removed during routine screenings, preventing cancer altogether.

Fifteen years ago, the standard screening for a man in his 60s with no family history of colon cancer was a sigmoidoscopy, which looks at part but not all of the colon.  Dad underwent that test, but never had the full colonoscopy that doctors now recommend. If he had, he could still be alive today. Instead, he died suddenly from a ruptured bowel due to an undetected tumor in the upper reaches of the colon.

While colorectal cancer death rates have declined for the past 20 years, partly due to increased screening rates, one in three adults aged 50 to 75 are still not getting screened as recommended. Because more screening means fewer cancer deaths, the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN) have joined more than 650 organizations nationwide on a shared goal to increase colorectal cancer screening rates to 80 percent by 2018.

Montana ranks 49th out of all states for colorectal cancer screenings.  Department of Public Health and Human Services data reveal that just 62 percent of Montana adults are up-to-date with their screenings. In order to achieve the 80 percent goal, an additional 260,000 Montana adults need to be current on screenings.

Colonoscopies and other routine screenings are often out of reach for people because of high out-of-pocket costs. The Affordable Care Act requires new private health insurance to cover colonoscopies with no co-insurance, co-pay or deductible. But, a loophole allows seniors on Medicare to get a large bill if a polyp is found and removed during a routine colonoscopy.

Right now, Congress is considering the Removing Barriers to Colorectal Screening Act that would remove this loophole and lift this financial burden for Medicare patients. This bipartisan legislation already has wide support in Congress. I’m glad to see Sen. Tester co-sponsoring this lifesaving legislation, and I urge Sen. Daines and Rep. Zinke to follow his lead.

President Obama named March as National Colorectal Cancer Month. It’s the perfect time for Montanans to learn about colorectal cancer and get screened. And it’s the perfect time for Congress to make it easier for Montanans to get these screenings that can save lives, reduce cancer rates and decrease health care costs.

I lost my dad to a preventable disease. Let’s work together to make such tragedies a thing of the past.


7 Comments on "GUEST POST: Time for Congress to Save Lives During National Colorectal Cancer Month "

  1. You may not enjoy drinking the “kool-aid” the docs prescribe or sitting a spell on the white throne but, it is one of the most important things you can do for yourself in the later years of your life. You are fool if you think that this cancer will never touch you or the ones that you love.

  2. I caught up on reading while prepping for my colonoscopy. No, it wasn’t fun but my mother died of colorectal cancer, too.

  3. Anyone who gets Obamacare should do all they can to take all the free tests needed to see how you are doing.

    ❍ Abdominal Aortic Aneurysm one-time screening for men of specified ages who have ever smoked
    ❍ Alcohol Misuse screening and counseling
    ❍ Aspirin use for men and women of certain ages
    ❍ Blood Pressure screening for all adults
    ❍ Cholesterol screening for adults of certain ages or at higher risk
    ❍ Colorectal Cancer screening for adults over 50
    ❍ Depression screening for adults
    ❍ Type 2 Diabetes screening for adults with high blood pressure
    ❍ Diet counseling for adults at higher risk for chronic disease
    ❍ HIV screening for all adults at higher risk
    ❍ Immunization vaccines for adults–doses, recommended ages, and recommended populations vary:
    Hepatitis A
    Hepatitis B
    Herpes Zoster
    Human Papillomavirus
    Influenza (Flu Shot)
    Measles, Mumps, Rubella
    Tetanus, Diphtheria, Pertussis
    Learn more about immunizations and see the latest vaccine schedules.
    ❍ Obesity screening and counseling for all adults
    ❍ Sexually Transmitted Infection (STI) prevention counseling for adults at higher risk
    ❍ Tobacco Use screening for all adults and cessation interventions for tobacco users
    ❍ Syphilis screening for all adults at higher risk

    I found out here recently I have Type 2 Diabetes because I took all the tests and The medicine for me is free. It was found early, I have changed my diet, plus more exercise to reflect the changes I need to stay healthy.

    I suggest anyone over 50 get this test stuff out of the way. It will lead to a better, healthier, Life!

  4. We have to find ways to make health care less expensive. 3rd party payers like private insurance and the government drive up costs.

  5. Great article good advice. And then there is reality.

    At 51 I went in for my initial colonoscopy. It was unpleasant but necessary and my insurance paid most of it because it was diagnostic. Not a huge surprise but a few per-cancerous lesions were found and removed.

    The down side is that now Health Insurance will no longer pay for further screenings because since those polyps were found, further tests are no longer diagnostic.

    Single payer!

    • One more reason for campaign finance reform. Insurance companies don’t want single payer, because it would put them out of business. They, like every other special interest group, use lobbyists and campaign contributions to convince congress to set up the system so that it benefits them. That goes a long way toward keeping single payer off the table, regardless of how many Americans like the idea.

      MAYDAY ( is working to elect representatives in congress who support changing the way campaigns are financed.

      There is also a bill that’s ready to go and could be passed by congress now, if they wanted to. But they don’t. Which is why MAYDAY does what they do…

      The bill is the Government By the People Act (H.R. 20) (

  6. robert petersen | March 23, 2016 3:06 PM at 3:06 PM |

    one more of many reasons I am so grateful to my country for my VA medical care. They have screened, photographed, poked and prodded the most remote areas of my anatomy over the last five years and even the most insignificant anomalies in my lab tests get instant attention. Prevention finally seems to be the word of the day. and why I dread the thought of a President Trump or Cruz-VA treatment has always been considerably worse under Republican rule. Their idea of prevention is to prevent more Federal employees being hired and prevent vets from getting costly state-of-the-art surgical care, dental care or treatment using the newest developments in Pharmacology. The GOP plan is for us veterans to join you poor civilians fighting with insurance companies-and our answer is a firm-HELL NO! We have a better idea-why not give ALL Americans the same quality of care we receive as a base. If you want a private room or cable TV, or maybe the latest in invisible braces instead of the old chrome-moly jobs-this is what private insurance could provide. Repair a deviated septum-no charge. Rhinoplasty and a chin-tuck-no way! Private insurance could cover things like this. And then finally there is this; relieving employers of the cost of providing health coverage would enable an economic boom unseen since the 50’s-imagine a revolution in healthcare, a revolution in energy production and a revolution in transportation technology-all led by AMERICAN WORKERS. In my humble opinion this is the rEvolution Bernie is talking about. Make no mistake, the rEvolution is coming and Empires will topple. We can’t stop it, all we can do is decide if we’re going to be manning the barricades or leading the charge. As for me, I say let’s Bern this s*@thouse down and build one with a solid foundation.

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