Breast & Cervical Cancer Treatment Act - January 2001

Denver Women's Commission
Breast & Cervical Cancer Treatment Act - January 2001

December 28, 2000
Prepared by Chaer Robert
ForColorado Woman News

Breast & Cervical Cancer Treatment Act

"This bill can literally be a matter of life and death. If a woman postpones screening, or if her cancer treatment is delayed because she has no way to pay for cancer surgery and chemotherapy, her life and health is jeopardized. How can we in this state provide breast and cervical cancer screenings without providing an avenue for treatment?" Senator Bob Hagedorn explained his sponsorship of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Act.

Each year about 7000 Colorado women are screened through the Center for Disease Control funded program for breast and cervical cancer. This free screening program is available to women over 50 years, who have no health insurance. Each year about 25-35 of these women get the bad news that they have breast cancer. About 1 learns she has cervical cancer and about 20 of these women learn they have precancerous cell changes. Then what?

The screening program does not pay for treatment. The women have low income and no health insurance. Those organizations hosting the screening programs make every attempt to connect the women with free or low cost treatment. About 40-50% are treated at state or county hospitals, 10-20% are treated at Catholic charity hospitals. As health care dollars tighten, fewer providers feel they can absorb the cost of unpaid care. Breast cancer treatment costs run about $17,000---27,000 per woman for the first year of treatment, depending on how advanced the cancer is and other factors. The Susan G. Komen Foundation is often called upon to help pay in such cases, but they have a cap of $7500 per case of breast cancer. Cervical cancer treatment runs about $7,000 to $24,000 per woman.

In 2000, Congress gave States the option of covering those diagnosed through the CDC program with Medicaid. Although the women are all low-income, they can't currently get Medicaid because they earn too much or have no dependents. Congressional authority is just stage one though. The Colorado Breast Cancer Coalition, the American Cancer Society, and the Colorado Women's Bar Association were all watching passage of the national bill, ready to press for local implementation.

Here in Colorado, Medicaid is being eyed for cuts, not expansions. Medicaid costs are rising more than 6% per year, but that is one of the spending limits frozen into our constitution by the TABOR amendment. So instead of looking at state dollars for the 35% match to Federal Medicaid dollars, the bill may authorize the state to write grants for private matching funds.

Whatever it takes, we have to do this. While a cancer diagnosis can be terrifying, a cancer diagnosis without access to prompt treatment is doubly horrifying. Women should not need to go begging for mastectomies and chemotherapy. Tell your state representative and senator.