By Karen Timberlake, Secretary, Wisconsin Department of Health Services
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and it is a time to rededicate ourselves to the cause of protecting more women from breast cancer through preventive screening. Over the years the number of new cases of breast cancer has declined steadily, but breast cancer still remains one of the leading causes of death in our state today. Despite our best efforts, women continue to slip through the cracks, sometimes because they can’t afford the cost of preventive screening.
Mammograms are the best method to detect breast cancer early when it is easier to treat. Many more lives could be saved by taking advantage of regular screening. But despite the fact that doctors recommend all women over 40 have an annual mammogram, thousands of women put them off because they don’t have insurance or can’t afford their co-pay or deductible.
This is tragic.
The economic recession has impacted all of us deeply, but no woman should have to lose her life because she couldn’t afford preventive care.
Recently a key provision of national health care reform became effective that will hopefully reverse this trend. Beginning last month, for women who have health insurance, all preventive care visits – including mammograms – must now be free of charge to the patient. This means no co-pays and no deductibles. If you have health insurance, it will cover the full cost of your potentially life saving procedure.
For those without health care coverage there is another important option – the Wisconsin Well Woman Program. The Well Woman Program provides mammograms at no charge to low-income women ages 45-64 with little or no health insurance coverage in all 72 counties and for Wisconsin ’s 11 Indian tribes. Uninsured or underinsured women can sign up for the Well Woman Program through their local health department or by calling 608-266-8311.
In addition to focusing on the work yet to be done, it is also important for Wisconsin to use Breast Cancer Awareness Month as a reason to celebrate all that we have accomplished. Between 2002 and 2006, the breast cancer mortality rate among Wisconsin women overall decreased from 24.5 per 100,000 women to 22.6 per 100,000 women. During that same timeframe, 62 percent of breast cancer in Wisconsin was detected early and the national survival rate for women diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer was 98 percent.
With numbers like that it is hard to see why any woman over the age of 40 would put off a mammogram. However, when people are out of work and times are tight, paying out of pocket for health care is an expense many can’t afford. That is why it is so important to spread the word, not only about the importance of early detection, but about the resources available to help every woman afford the preventive care that just might save her life.
If you are a woman over age 40, talk with your health care provider about getting screened for breast cancer. Breast cancer screening just became more affordable, and it could save your life. Wisconsin Well Woman Program http://www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/womenshealth/WWWP/index.htm