Is PSMA PET Scan Covered by Medicare?

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Russell Noga
by Russell Noga | Updated January 21st, 2024

Determining if Medicare covers a PSMA PET scan is crucial for patients facing prostate cancer.

The short answer is that coverage is available, with specific criteria for eligibility and cost-sharing details.

This article provides clear guidance on what those criteria are, helping you understand if your scan could be covered by Medicare and what to anticipate financially, specifically addressing the question: “is PSMA PET scan covered by Medicare?”


Key Takeaways

  • Medicare coverage for PSMA PET scans requires patients to meet specific criteria, such as a confirmed diagnosis of prostate cancer, high risk of recurrence or metastasis, prior negative tests, and documented suspicion of metastatic prostate cancer cells.



  • While Medicare offers substantial coverage for PSMA PET scans, understanding the details, limitations, and out-of-pocket expenses, as well as exploring alternative coverage through Medicare Advantage Plans or private insurance is essential for comprehensive financial planning.


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Understanding Medicare Coverage for PSMA PET Scans


Understanding Medicare Coverage for PSMA PET Scans-min


Medicare, the federal health insurance program, provides coverage for a variety of medical procedures and services, including PSMA PET scans for prostate cancer patients. However, keep in mind that this coverage comes with specific criteria. To be eligible for a covered PSMA PET scan, Medicare beneficiaries need:

  • A confirmed diagnosis of cancer or other conditions detectable by the scan
  • Indicators of NCCN risk
  • PSA levels
  • Suspicion of metastatic prostate cancer cells


The required documentation includes indicators of NCCN risk, PSA levels, and suspicion of metastatic disease in the form of prostate cancer cells.

However, Medicare coverage for these scans is not a carte blanche. There are specific restrictions, primarily centered around the type of cancer and the PET scan variant. For instance, the insurance coverage encompasses only specific types of prostate cancer and PET scan types.

Grasping these nuances can aid patients in traversing the intricate terrain of insurance coverage, thus securing the best possible care.


Criteria for Coverage

To be eligible for Medicare coverage for PSMA PET scans, individuals must meet certain conditions. These include a confirmed diagnosis of prostate cancer and a high risk of recurrence or metastasis. Additionally, coverage is available for patients who have undergone prior negative tests, such as magnetic resonance imaging (MRI).

Consequently, the coverage for these scans is not universal for all prostate cancer types. It is specifically designed for patients with a high risk of recurrence or metastatic cancer cells. This emphasis on high-risk cases is necessary for efficient resource allocation, giving priority to patients who need them the most.


Coverage Limitations

While Medicare coverage provides substantial financial relief for patients, it does not cover the entire cost of the PSMA PET scan. Usually, Medicare Part B covers 80% of the scan expenses, while the patient is accountable for the remaining 20%. This financial responsibility extends to other related expenses such as the PSMA tracer, which can cost up to $5,000.

Additionally, be aware that the Medicare reimbursement amount for a Pylarify PET/CT scan, a pivotal tool in managing prostate cancer patients, is $5,224.

Understanding these cost implications is crucial for patients to manage their expectations and plan for potential out-of-pocket expenses.


Navigating the Approval Process

Before the PSMA PET scan can be performed, physicians must first secure approval from Medicare. This involves submitting a coverage request to Medicare and waiting for approval. Unfortunately, denials do occur, and when that happens, patients may need to explore other options.

This could involve appealing the denial or covering the cost of the scan independently.

Though the approval process may seem intimidating, comprehending the steps and potential outcomes can notably reduce the stress it entails.

Deciphering Out-of-Pocket Costs with Medicare

While Medicare coverage provides substantial financial alleviation, it does not eliminate all costs associated with the PSMA PET scan. Here are some key points to consider:

  • The approved Medicare payment for a PSMA PET/CT scan is $5,224.
  • If a patient is uninsured, they could expect to pay around $21,000 for the scan.
  • Even with Medicare, the patient is still responsible for 20% of the cost.


While interpreting out-of-pocket costs may be overwhelming, gaining insight into these costs can help patients brace themselves for potential expenses. Besides the scan, patients may also incur additional costs for the PSMA tracer, which can cost up to $5,000. Moreover, patients must discuss with their physician and insurance provider to gain a well-rounded understanding of the out-of-pocket expenses they could encounter.


Understanding Medicare Part B Costs

Medicare Part B plays a significant role in covering the cost of a PSMA PET scan. Under this plan, Medicare provides coverage for 80% of the expenses related to a PSMA PET scan, leaving the patient responsible for the remaining 20%.

However, before Medicare starts to pay, the patient must first meet the deductible for Medicare Part B coverage, which amounted to $226 in 2023. After that, the patient is typically required to pay 20% of the Medicare-approved amount for a PSMA PET scan. Comprehending these costs and financial responsibilities can assist patients in planning for potential out-of-pocket expenses, thereby avoiding unforeseen financial shocks.


Additional Expenses to Consider

Aside from the scan itself, there are other expenses associated with undergoing a PSMA PET scan that patients need to consider. For instance, the cost of radiopharmaceuticals used in the scan can be significant, with the typical expense estimated to be around $3,277 in the United States.

In addition to the radiopharmaceuticals, the fee for a radiologist to interpret the scan can also vary significantly, with costs ranging from approximately $1,300 to over $4,600.

Patients may also have to bear the responsibility for any additional expenses related to the procedure that are not included in Medicare coverage, such as procedural or facility fees.

It’s vital for patients to fully grasp all potential expenses to properly prepare for the financial aspect of undergoing a PSMA PET scan.



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Comparing PSMA PET Scan Coverage Across Insurance Plans

While Medicare provides comprehensive coverage for PSMA PET scans, it’s not the only insurance option. Coverage can also be obtained through private insurance or Medicare Advantage Plans. However, the coverage details may vary significantly across these options.

Comprehending these differences is vital for patients to make well-informed decisions regarding their healthcare.

It’s essential to review the specific policies or inquire directly with the insurance providers to ascertain the level of coverage and eligibility for PSMA PET scan procedures.


Medicare Advantage Plans

Offering an alternative to the original Medicare, Medicare Advantage Plans provide another avenue for patients to receive coverage for PSMA PET scans. These plans typically cover 80% of the expenses related to the scan, similar to Medicare Part B. Furthermore, they may offer additional benefits by including the scan’s cost, potentially reducing the financial burden of other treatments such as chemotherapy or radiation.

However, it’s important to note that there are limitations to the coverage provided by these plans.

For instance, there are frequency limitations to consider, such as whole-body PET scans not being ordered more frequently than once every 12 months without documented medical necessity.

Like any insurance plan, it’s essential to meticulously review the coverage details to confirm they align with individual medical needs.


Private Insurance Policies

Private insurance policies can also provide coverage for PSMA PET scans. However, the coverage provided can vary significantly across different policies.

Certain limitations or exclusions may apply, and there is no uniformity or guarantee of coverage.

When assessing coverage for PSMA PET scans, private insurance companies consider the insured individual’s medical history, clinical needs, and the specifics of their coverage.

To ascertain whether their policy includes coverage for PSMA PET scans, individuals should reach out to their insurance provider directly.

The Impact of PSMA PET Scans on Prostate Cancer Management


The Impact of PSMA PET Scans on Prostate Cancer Management-min

The advent of PSMA PET scans has significantly transformed the landscape of prostate cancer management. These scans are known for their high sensitivity to prostate cancer, allowing for the detection of the disease within the body with remarkable accuracy.

The enhanced sensitivity of these scans significantly surpasses that of traditional MRI, leading to fewer false positives and a more precise diagnosis.

This accuracy, coupled with the ability to customize treatment approaches based on the scan results, has resulted in improved patient outcomes.

The precise identification and staging of prostate cancer using PSMA PET scans enable the development of more targeted and efficient treatment approaches, tailored to the individual patient’s distinct cancer characteristics.


Enhanced Diagnostic Accuracy

The diagnostic accuracy of PSMA PET scans is one of their most significant advantages. These scans demonstrate superior accuracy in detecting the spread of prostate cancer to adjacent tissue, nearby lymph nodes, and bones, showing a 27% greater accuracy than conventional imaging.

This accuracy is due to the PSMA PET scan’s ability to identify the concentrated PSMA tracer, which binds to PSMA proteins found in prostate cancer tumors.

This leads to more precise staging of the disease and ultimately, more effective treatment planning.


Tailored Treatment Strategies

One of the most significant impacts of PSMA PET scans on patient management in prostate cancer is the ability to develop tailored treatment strategies.

The scans play a pivotal role in decision-making for prostate cancer treatment by identifying cancer recurrence in patients who have undergone surgery or radiotherapy and are experiencing an increase in prostate-specific antigen levels.

The results of the scans can be used to:


  • Assess the extent of the malignancy


  • Devise personalized radiation therapy, thereby customizing the treatment to the patient’s unique condition


  • Contribute to more precise treatment planning, including guiding customized radiation therapy and evaluating the potential for surgical interventions


This high-quality nuclear medicine medical imaging contributes to more precise treatment planning, including guiding customized radiation therapy and evaluating the potential for surgical interventions.

Steps to Accessing PSMA PET Scans Through Medicare

Accessing PSMA PET scans through Medicare involves a few key steps. First and foremost, patients need to find a Medicare-approved provider who is experienced in performing PSMA PET scans.

Once a provider is found, patients should initiate a conversation with their physician and insurance provider about the scan’s cost and any additional charges, to fully grasp the out-of-pocket expenses they might encounter.

Next, patients need to prepare for the scan. Unlike many medical procedures, there are no special preparations required before a PSMA PET scan. Patients are not required to fast or avoid specific food types before the procedure.


Finding a Medicare-Approved Provider

Finding a Medicare-approved provider is the first step in accessing a PSMA PET scan through Medicare. Providers approved by Medicare to conduct these scans should ensure they meet specific criteria, collect relevant data elements, and possess the necessary qualifications to perform the scan.

The provider must also uphold a doctor’s referral and ensure the use of solely FDA-approved drugs and devices for the procedure, as per documentation. Understanding the specifics of Medicare coverage can help patients find a suitable provider and ensure they receive the care they need.


Preparing for Your PSMA PET Scan

Preparing for a PSMA PET scan is typically straightforward. There are generally no specific preparation guidelines required for the scan, so fasting or avoiding specific foods is not necessary.

However, certain guidelines suggest refraining from intake of any food or beverages, except water, for 6 hours preceding the scan and limiting carbohydrate consumption for 24 hours before the examination. It’s important to note that specific treatments, like chemotherapy and PSMA-ligand therapy, can influence the expression of PSMA in metastases, potentially impacting the scan findings.


What Happens During the Scan

During a PSMA PET scan, a line (needle) is inserted into the patient’s arm or hand to deliver a radioactive tracer, specifically 68 Ga/ 18 F prostate-specific membrane antigen (PSMA), through this line for the detection of PSMA molecules in the body. This process utilizes positron emission tomography technology for accurate imaging.

Approximately an hour later, the patient will undergo the following steps during the scan to detect prostate cancer:

  1. The patient will lie down on a table.
  2. The table will slide into a donut-shaped machine.
  3. The machine will take multiple images of the inside of the body.


Understanding what happens during the scan can help alleviate any anxiety or fear a patient may have about the procedure.


In conclusion, understanding Medicare coverage for PSMA PET scans, deciphering out-of-pocket costs, comparing coverage across different insurance plans, and understanding the impact of these scans on prostate cancer management are all crucial aspects of navigating the complexities of healthcare for prostate cancer patients. By leveraging this knowledge, patients can make informed decisions about their healthcare, ensuring they receive the most effective and personalized care possible.

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Frequently Asked Questions

Does Medicare cover PSMA PET scans for prostate cancer?

Yes, as of January 1, 2022, Medicare covers PSMA PET scans for prostate cancer, as a dedicated billing code has been established for this purpose.


What is the average cost of a PSMA PET scan?

The average cost of a PSMA PET scan is around $1,140 without insurance and can vary based on coverage and location. With insurance, out-of-pocket costs depend on the plan’s coverage and the facility where the scan is performed.


How to get a pet scan covered by insurance?

To get a PET scan covered by insurance, your doctor must order the test and deem it medically necessary. You can use the online tool provided by the National Coverage Determination to check if your condition qualifies as medically necessary.


What specific preparations are necessary prior to undergoing a PSMA PET scan?

No special preparations are necessary before undergoing a PSMA PET scan. You don’t need to fast or avoid specific foods beforehand.


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