Calif. legislature seeks to restore mammo screening program

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The California State Legislature has approved a bill to save the state’s mammogram program--Every Woman Counts--with a vote of 34-0 from the Senate and 75-0 in the state assembly last week. 

The bill, AB 1640, which was authored by Noreen Evans, D-Santa Rosa, and Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, will restore access to mammogram screening for 100,000 low-income, uninsured women and is now awaiting the approval of Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger.

More than 1.2 million California women are eligible for the program, which was created as a result of access restrictions put in place in California on Jan. 1.

Sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and funded via  tobacco taxes and federal dollars, AB 1640 will:
•    Require the Department of Public Health (DPH) to notify the Legislature and program providers of any policy changes to the program 90 days in advance, as the administration announced changes via press release last December, less than 30 days in advance;
•    Require DPH to report on Every Woman Counts effectiveness by February 1 of each year to the legislature to allow for public program oversight; and
•    Be designed to work with the state budget to restore the funding needed to provide mammograms to women aged 40 years and older, restoring mammogram access for 100,000 women, to eliminate the current cap in new enrollment in Every Woman Counts.

The causes of the current gap in program enrollment, which was cut by an estimated 100,000, are due to the aforementioned access restrictions implemented last January, said Evans. Additionally, the changes resulted in screening disparities, with 68.7 percent of Hispanic, 15 percent of Asian-Pacific-Islander, 9 percent of Caucasian and 2.5 percent of African American women receiving mammograms through Every Woman Counts. 

The changes included:
•    The minimum age to receive breast cancer screening services was raised from 40 years to 50 years of age; and
•    All new enrollments would be frozen for six months.

“We know that early breast cancer detection saves lives--and saves money,” said Nava. “It makes no sense to deny women this important health service.”