State breast cancer screening programs nationwide face cuts

August 17, 2010

States across the country are reducing funding for their breast cancer screening programs or tightening eligibility requirements, leaving many women without their annual screening mammograms. In all, 17 states have cut back on the programs to help balance their budgets.

States across the country are reducing funding for their breast cancer screening programs or tightening eligibility requirements, leaving many women without their annual screening mammograms. In all, 17 states have cut back on the programs to help balance their budgets.

The state programs are funded by a Centers for Disease Control federal grant, which the states then match. Some states receive funding from private organizations like Susan G. Komen for the Cure. On top of that, such as South Carolina, some put additional state funding into their breast cancer screening programs. The 17 states have cut their additional funds in response to budget pressures.

“We are extremely concerned about the impact of budget cuts on breast cancer screening and treatment programs at the state level, and particularly for the women who rely on those programs,” said Matt Moore, senior public policy advisor at Susan G. Komen for the Cure. “In many cases, these women have no where else to go for potentially life-saving breast health services.”

Those most affected by the cuts are typically low-income women, Moore said.

“These are women who are underinsured, uninsured, and don’t qualify for Medicaid, so they fall into this gap, or wrinkle, in the healthcare system,” he said. “The screening programs were designed to protect the women who fall into that gap.”

When the programs are wiped away, the women have nowhere else to go, he said.

“We’re extremely concerned about how these women are going to fare in the face of budget cuts,” Moore said.

One state Susan G. Komen for the Cure is particularly concerned about is California. In 1994 California established the Every Woman Counts program to serve needy women. It has been funded through California tobacco tax receipts and some federal money. But the state is now doing away with the program because of severe budget constraints. The program has also suffered a setback in the form of audit findings that revealed poor internal management.

“We have been calling on the state decision makers in California to protect these underserved women in the state,” Moore said. “We understand there are budget pressures and there are difficult decisions to be made. But we should not be in the business of balancing the state’s budget on the back of some of the state’s neediest women.”

A bill pending in the California legislature would restore the Every Woman Counts program. Assemblymembers Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) and Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) sponsored Assembly Bill 1640 to restore program eligibility, require the Department of Public Health to notify the legislature and program providers 90 days in advance of any policy changes to the program, and require the Department of Public Health to report on the program’s effectiveness by Feb. 1 each year to allow for public oversight.

“We must fight against the governor’s abandonment of poor women to die from treatable cancer,” Evans said. “By restoring mammogram access for thousands of women, this bill will prevent needless suffering and unconscionable death. Poverty should not be a death sentence.”

As of Aug. 13 the bill had been read a second time, amended, and re-referred to the Senate Committee on Appropriations.

In other states most of the efforts to restore funding have taken place within the appropriations process rather than through new legislation, Moore said. On the federal level, funding will remain what it has been, thanks to patient advocacy groups.