NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis


December 8, 2009

A cigarette tax-funded program that pays for breast cancer screenings for low-income women will stop accepting new patients Jan. 1, California public health officials said this week.  Officials said the decision came as a result of "unprecedented fiscal challenges" to the program which they hope to reopen by summertime.

According to state officials, if "Every Woman Counts" reopens July 2 as planned, its scope will be scaled back significantly:

  • Although women ages 50 and older will still be eligible, women ages 40-49 will no longer be screened.
  • Women ages 40 to 49 who had been served by the program will no longer have access to state-funded screening.
  • Demand has grown for the free screening even as the program's main source of revenue, a tobacco tax, has dwindled.
  • Women already enrolled in the program will continue to be eligible for annual screenings.

But Dr. Mark Horton, the state health officer, said in a statement that short-term increases in state funding for the program "have not been enough to keep pace with the growing demand for and cost of providing breast cancer screening services to women in this program."

Officials said the age requirement was tightened because, according to the California Department of Public Health, most breast cancer cases occur in women older than 50.

The service covered breast cancer screening tests for women that were not covered by other government medical programs, such as Medi-Cal; had medical insurance that failed to cover such screenings; had a high insurance deductible or copayment; or were low-income.

Dr. Willie Goffney, a surgical cancer doctor who serves on the board of directors for the California division of the American Cancer Society, says he is disappointed by the state's decision to put the free screening program on hiatus and then limit who can enroll.

"We feel we are moving in the wrong direction.  We know that screening for breast cancer and having access to that screening saves lives," says Goffney.  "So to take those resources from people who need that access means more people will fall through the cracks, and will lead to more deaths from breast cancer."

Source: Rong-Gong Lin II, "Breast cancer screening program for poor women to stop accepting new patients," Los Angeles Time, December 4, 2009.

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