Medicare to Cover PET Scans to Diagnose Alzheimer's

The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) has announced that Medicare plans to cover positron emission tomography (PET) scans to help determine whether beneficiaries with dementia have Alzheimer's disease.

People diagnosed with dementia and who have experienced a six-month decline in cognitive abilities would be eligible for the scans. In addition, for patients with early signs of dementia but no clear diagnosis of it, Medicare will provide some coverage to patients enrolled in clinical trials aimed at testing the usefulness of PET scans. CMS is working to foster the development of such clinical trials.

PET scans accurately diagnose Alzheimer's about 90 percent of the time, but the scans are expensive, costing up to $1,500. Nevertheless, early diagnosis of Alzheimer's is important, since research has shown that starting drug treatment early can help slow the disease's progression.

Alzheimer's disease is an age-related and irreversible brain disorder that occurs gradually and results in memory loss, behavior and personality changes, and a decline in thinking abilities. It is the most common cause of dementia, representing approximately two-thirds of cases.

CMS has released the coverage decision in draft form and is accepting public comments.

For the CMS press release, go to: