States Move to Cover Cancer Treatment For Poor Women

Even though states are struggling to make financial ends meet, an overwhelming majority of them have added a new program that will provide breast and cervical cancer treatment for poor women.

The new programs stem from a nearly year-old federal law dubbed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000. The measure gives states the option to provide health care via Medicaid to eligible women.

Medicaid is the federal-state health insurance program for certain low-income women, children and other needy people.

States have covered cancer-screening costs for women since 1990 through an initiative backed by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The endeavor, known as the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program, was launched in 12 states with a budget of $30 million, and only covers the cancer screening process. Once a woman was diagnosed with a potentially fatal cancer, it was a crapshoot whether she'd get treatment.

Enter the National Breast Cancer Coalition a grassroots advocacy group that lobbies for policies and research to fight breast cancer. Coalition officials worked with advocates across the country to urge the Clinton Administration and members of Congress to pass the treatment act.

The coalition's lobbying strength has also swayed state policymakers. Forty-one states introduced cancer treatment measures in this year's legislative sessions and 30 states okayed the laws. Colorado lawmakers, who were at odds with Gov. Bill Owens on how to pay for the program, passed a bill in a special session that ended earlier this month.

Owens, who pushed for the program to be paid for through tobacco settlement money, plans to sign the measure Nov. 1, spokesperson Amy Sampson says.

Elsewhere, Kentucky Senator Ernesto Scorsone, a Democrat, unveiled a cancer treatment bill this week (10/24) at a meeting of the Governor's Task Force on Breast Cancer. Lawmakers will consider the measure, which Scorsone pre-filed, during the General Assembly's 2002 session, which kicks off Jan. 8.

State budget analysts aren't shocked policymakers are backing the program. "I am surprised that many states did it so quickly... but it's not seen as being an expensive option," says Vic Miller of Federal Funds Information for States, a DC-based group that monitors state spending.

Projected state costs for the next fiscal year range from $50,000 in Alabama to $12,900,000 in Florida.

Miller says state officials will be taken aback once treatment programs are up and running, and the bills start coming in. "States will be surprised because costs will be higher (than what is projected). There wasn't much information to estimate costs and states did the best they could," he says.

Tags: Health