Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment - September, 2001

Denver Women's Commission
Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment - September, 2001

Prepared for Colorado Woman News
By Chaer Robert
September 1, 2001

Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment

“Your mammogram shows a large suspicious mass”. Perhaps you have heard those terrifying words. Perhaps your mother, sister or a friend has. The swirl of emotions following it can turn anyone’s world upside down. Now imagine that you have just heard those words and have no health insurance. That is the position of dozens of the approximately 7000 Colorado women who are screened through the Center for Disease Control funded free screenings for low-income uninsured women. Where, or if, they can get cancer treatment is not a given. During the regular legislative session, Sen. Bob Hagedorn and Rep. Debbie Stafford sponsored the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act. The bill would have matched the 65% of federal money with 35% local match of private moneys raised from foundations. It passed the Senate 30 to 5, and the House Health Committee 10 to 1. But it died in House Appropriations on a tie vote. An outcry followed the bill’s defeat, prompting Governor Owens to add the topic to the call for the special session beginning September 20. He announced that Sen. Norma Anderson would sponsor a bill to fund breast and cervical cancer out of tobacco moneys earmarked for tobacco prevention and cessation. If we did that, what would we lose? In 2000, Senator Anderson sponsored the bill dividing the tobacco settlement moneys. Tobacco companies pay states in exchange for immunity from state lawsuits. As signed into law, Colorado’s approximately $100 million per year is divided this way: 38% - Trust Fund to fund programs after settlement period concludes in 25 years. 19%-Read to Achieve Program 15%-Tobacco Prevention and Cessation $10 million/yr – Child Health Plan 8%- Tobacco Research 3% growing to 19% - Nurse Home Visitation Program 6%- Primary Health Care Grants to serve the uninsured 1%- Veteran’s Trust Fund The tobacco prevention moneys are design to prevent children from beginning smoking. Over 90% of smokers began smoking as teens. The cessation program is a statewide toll-free counseling line for smokers wishing to quit. It is due to debut this fall. Preventing new smokers, or helping current smokers quit, saves money and suffering in the long run. Colorado Medicaid payments directly attributable to smoking related illness top $150 million per year, which is funded by taxpayers. Lung cancer kills more Colorado women each year than breast cancer. In fact, tobacco use is the leading preventable cause of death for women. Heart disease, often smoking related, kills more women each year than all cancers combined. Further, smoking is a risk factor for cervical cancer. And breast cancer patients who smoke have a higher mortality than those who do not. But do prevention and cessation programs work? Or are we just squandering money better spent on something concrete like breast and cervical cancer treatment? Of Colorado’s 6th – 8th graders, 39% have smoked. California, Florida and Oregon have developed smoking prevention programs with significant measurable results. On their own, less than 5% of smokers who try can quit for at least a year. Michigan, Oregon, Arizona, Massachusetts and California have telephone help lines. More than 20% of those who have used the help lines have been successful in staying a non-smoker. Isn’t there other state money that could be used as a match? State match estimates have range from $378,000 to $1.7 million. As I write this, many are combing the state budget trying to identify where dollars could come from, if not from the tobacco prevention moneys. Might there be unspent moneys in corrections or elsewhere that could be put to this good use? Through the voter approved TABOR amendment, Coloradoans have tight caps on the growth of state government. Every funding decision is a difficult choice between competing uses. Cancer treatment, preventing tobacco use, contracts with private prisons, funding for roads. Your legislators need to hear your priorities.