Opinion: Medicare should stop blocking access to next-generation sequencing for people with hereditary cancer

America’s policymakers are rightly concerned about identifying the best ways to provide access to affordable health care. Whether it’s reforming the Affordable Care Act or trying to implement “Medicare for all,” there is no shortage of discussion about this important topic. So it’s surprising that little attention has been given to an unsound Medicare decision that each year will deprive an estimated 20,000 women from access to comprehensive testing for hereditary breast cancer, along with a smaller number of men and women with other hereditary cancers.

Next-generation sequencing, a technique that can read an individual’s entire genome in as little as an hour, has the potential to revolutionize medicine. Like other laboratory tests, next-generation sequencing analyzes specific genes or genetic changes with known relationships to disease. This breakthrough advance can rapidly, inexpensively, and simultaneously read the sequences of hundreds to thousands of genes or an entire genome for conditions as diverse as autism and cancer. This can give physicians clinically relevant information that was never before available.

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