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FIT at 45: Breaking Barriers to Colorectal Cancer Screenings in Northern Arizona

03/25/2024 by Kari Perlewitz

Happy senior man talking to nurse at reception desk in the hospital.

In early 2023, North Country HealthCare received grant funding to develop the FIT at 45 program. This program offers no-cost colorectal cancer screenings to qualified patients. In this post, we will outline how the program works, what it covers, and who is eligible.

What is the FIT at 45 Program?

FIT at 45 is a grant-funded program that helps qualified patients gain access to colorectal cancer screenings and relevant follow-up services. This program is designed specifically for low-income, uninsured, underinsured, and insured patients in Northern Arizona.

Program coordinator Jayme Blackrock is excited about FIT at 45 and the positive impact it will have on patients. “In the United States, we’re actually seeing colorectal cancer numbers starting to drop about 1% per year due to preventative screenings. I am thrilled that we are offering these potentially life-saving screenings at no cost to qualified North Country HealthCare patients!”

According to the American Cancer Society, there are approximately 107,000 new cases of colorectal cancer and 46,000 new cases of rectal cancer each year. Colorectal cancer is the third most common cancer in both men and women in the United States. Preventative care is key!

Common Risk Factors for Colorectal Cancer

Of course, we want everyone eligible for the FIT at 45 program to schedule a cancer screening. But it is especially important for patients with one or more risk factors:

  • Obesity (BMI over 30)
  • Sedentary lifestyle
  • Diets containing high quantities of red meat
  • Heavy alcohol use
  • Tobacco use
  • Over 50 years of age
  • Type 2 Diabetes diagnosis
  • History of colorectal polyps or inflammatory bowel disease
  • Colorectal cancer diagnosis in the immediate family

Certain racial and ethnic backgrounds are also more predisposed to colorectal cancer. American Indians and Alaska Natives have the highest rates of colorectal cancer in the United States and people of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage have a higher risk due to a gene mutation.

Please know that even if you have one or more of these risk factors, that does not mean you’re going to develop colorectal cancer. This is a tool to help you prioritize preventative healthcare and potentially make lifestyle changes that will lower your risk – which is always a good thing!

What Does FIT at 45 Cover?

We already mentioned that FIT at 45 covers screening or diagnostic colonoscopies at no cost to uninsured or underinsured patients. If colonoscopies are being scheduled several months out, we may use Cologuard® or a Fecal Immunochemical Test as a substitute.

In addition to these cancer screenings, FIT at 45 also covers diagnostic services related to abnormal screening results, office visits related to colorectal cancer screening and services, and financial assistance to help patients overcome financial barriers such as transportation costs, lodging for the night before the colonoscopy procedure, etc.

In the case of a diagnosis, North Country HealthCare will work one-on-one with the patient to connect them with low- or no-cost support services and affordable treatment options.

Who is Eligible for the FIT at 45 Program?

This program is for established patients of North Country HealthCare clinics in Apache, Coconino, Gila, Mohave, and Navajo Counties. An established patient is anyone who has seen a North Country HealthCare clinician within the past 24 months.

Established patients must be uninsured or underinsured to qualify. For this program, we define underinsured as either a) the insurance does not cover the services offered by the FIT at 45 program or b) the co-pay or deductible is $100 or more for colorectal cancer screening and/or diagnostic services and the patient cannot afford to cover it. Sliding Fee Scale and Medical Self-Pay patients are automatically approved for the program.

Finally, this program is for patients between the ages of 45 and 75 OR for anyone over the age of 18 with symptoms such as abdominal pain and/or rectal bleeding who has not recently been diagnosed with colorectal cancer.

Want to Learn More?

To discuss your eligibility or to learn more about the FIT at 45 program, reach out to Program Coordinator Jayme Blackrock at 928-522-9440 or you can email fitat45@nchaz.org.

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