BREAST CANCER: Treatment Funds for Low-Income Women Almost Depleted
Warning that by "this time next year, thousands of low-income, uninsured California women with breast cancer will be unable to cover the cost of treatment," breast cancer and women's advocates today appealed to Gov. Gray Davis (D) to establish a permanent program that guarantees treatment for all women, the AP/AScribe News reports. California currently pays for breast cancer screening for low-income, uninsured women, but does not cover treatment. The California Breast Cancer Treatment Fund, which is financed through philanthropic donations by more than 1,400 providers, has taken on that responsibility since 1996, but by early next year, the fund will run out of money. "For the state to actively recruit low-income women for breast cancer screening and then to tell those diagnosed with the disease that there is no funding for treatment is downright cruel," Dr. Marion Kavanaugh-Lynch, director of the California Breast Cancer Research Program, said. In a letter to Davis signed by more than 100 organizations and individuals, the advocates argued, "No woman with breast cancer should be denied the chance for recovery simply because she lacks the money to pay for treatment," pleading, "We urge you not to let this cruel and immoral situation happen." The coalition also released a statewide survey of 1,000 California voters, showing that 86% support guaranteed access to treatment for low-income, uninsured women. More than 4,000 California women succumb to breast cancer each year, and advocates estimate that a treatment program would cost the state between $20 million and $25 million. Those pushing for action include: the CA Conference of Local Health Officers, CA Nurses Association, CA Association of Public Hospitals & Health Systems; CA National Organization for Women, CA Black Women's Health Project, National Latina Health Organization and numerous county health departments (AP/AScribe News, 4/26).
The issue caught the attention of several opinionmakers.
- Calling the situation, a "cruel dilemma," a San Jose Mercury News editorial argues that the state "should fund this breast cancer treatment program, in whole or in part," as it "would indeed be heartless to encourage women to be screened, only to offer no path to treatment when cancer is found" (4/27).
- Sacramento Bee columnist Marjorie Lundstrom writes that it is "an absurd situation," as well as "an ethical nightmare." Poor women are faced with the dilemma of getting screened, even though they know they will not be able to afford treatment, and health professionals must conduct the tests, knowing that they will not be able to provide treatment (4/27).
- "In the name of reining in entitlements and fraud, health care has been reduced to a contest among constituencies of sick people -- a fight for resources, body part by body part," Los Angeles Times columnist Shawn Hubler writes. While admitting that "there are scammers," Hubler maintains that the "Breast Cancer Treatment Fund payouts indicate that the scam quotient is nowhere near what alarmists claim." Hubler concludes, "The rest of the picture is a cloud of shameful denial, in which false promises keep getting made" (4/27).