BREAST CANCER: Spending Bill Affects Mammogram Reporting
Breast cancer advocates are applauding a provision in the FY 1999 omnibus appropriations bill mandating that women who have a mammogram "automatically receive a written summary of the radiologist's report 'in terms easily understood by a layperson.'" In addition, the Philadelphia Inquirer reports, the bill provides $135 million for the breast cancer research effort at the Department of Defense. However, "in a bitter disappointment for breast cancer organizations," Congress denied their bid to allocate $20 million in federal funds to treat low-income women diagnosed with breast cancer "detected when they take advantage of free mammograms." Since its inception in 1990, the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Detection Program has provided free mammograms and Pap smears to 576,000 women without health insurance, however, of the 3,400 diagnosed with cancer, 2,400 were unqualified for Medicare and left to foot the bill on their own. "I am just so shocked that they wouldn't fund treatment when you look at some of the things in this bill," said attorney Fran Visco, founder of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. She said her organization has vowed to "renew their efforts" to secure the funding.
Getting The Word Out
The new mammogram reporting policy replaces a six-year-old law requiring radiologists to provide test results to a woman's physician, who then passes the information to the patient. The Inquirer reports that "[h]undreds of radiologists and others objected to the proposed change, saying it would increase costs without any benefit, disrupt the doctor-patient relationship and confuse or alarm patients." However, the Food and Drug Administration, the American College of Radiology and the Agency for Health Care Policy Research hailed the change as a victory for patients. "We view it as a backup," said Josh Cooper, spokesperson for the ACR. He said of the new policy: "We're not trying to get in between the referring physician and the patient. But there have been cases where a physician didn't get the results, didn't relay the results or lost them. So we see this as a safety net." Christine Brunswick, vice president of the NBCC agreed, saying, "For numerous reasons, many health care providers do not always communicate the results of mammograms to patients. And some women ... may make the tragic assumption that 'no news is good news'" (McCullough, 10/23).