Legislature Approves Bill to Save State’s Mammogram Program

Aug 25, 2010
Anthony Matthews (Evans), tel. (916) 319-2007, John Mann (Nava) – tel. (916) 718-7420

SACRAMENTO, CA – The State Legislature approved legislation authored by Assemblymembers Noreen Evans (D-Santa Rosa) and Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara) to reform the state’s breast cancer screening program – or Every Woman Counts - and to help restore mammogram access to 100,000 low-income women.

Sponsored by Susan G. Komen for the Cure and the American Congress of Obstetricians and Gynecologists, Assembly Bill (AB) 1640 received strong bipartisan support.  The bill now awaits the governor’s signature or veto.

“Poverty should not be a death sentence,” said Evans.  “By passing this bill in a rare show of bi-partisan unanimity, the Legislature is restoring hope to thousands of women who will face needless suffering and unconscionable death from treatable cancer. Mammograms save lives.  Women across California are crying out for the governor to sign this bill and save innocent lives.”

“I am hopeful that the Governor signs AB 1640 to make sure that all women have access to breast cancer screening. We know that early breast cancer detection saves lives-and saves money,” said Assemblymember Pedro Nava (D-Santa Barbara), author of legislation signed by the Governor last year to increase access to digital mammography under Every Women Counts.  “It makes no sense to deny women this important health service. I commend Assemblywoman Evans on her leadership of this issue and am proud to have played a role in maintaining this vital screening mechanism for California’s low-income women.”

AB 1640 was crafted in response to an independent audit, available at http://www.bsa.ca.gov/pdfs/reports/2010-103.pdf, and the administration’s access restrictions adopted on January 1.  The bill:

  •  Requires the Department of Public Health (DPH) to notify the Legislature and program providers of any policy changes to the program 90 days in advance.  The administration announced changes by press release last December, less than 30 days in advance; and
  • Requires DPH to report on EWC effectiveness by February 1 of each year to the Legislature to allow for public program oversight.  Annual reporting by DPH has been required since 1994 when EWC was established but only one report has been submitted, in 1996; and
  • Is 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, and eliminates the current cap in new enrollment in EWC.

Funded with tobacco taxes and federal dollars, Every Woman Counts provides breast and cervical cancer screening to low-income, uninsured women.  More than 1.2 million California women are eligible for the program.

Since EWC eligibility criteria are not prescribed in statute, DPH was able to implement – without warning – two eligibility changes to Every Woman Counts starting January 1, 2010:

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

These two changes reduced program access by an estimated 100,000 and put an estimated 1,000 lives at risk by delaying breast cancer diagnoses.  Moreover, these changes have disproportionately affected women from communities of color.  From 2003 to 2008, 68.7% of women receiving mammograms through EWC were Hispanic, 15% were Asian-Pacific-Islander, 9% were White, and 2.5% were African American.

Early detection of breast cancer is a key to surviving the disease.  When breast cancer is detected early, the 5-year relative survival rate is 98 percent.  In addition, studies show that breast cancer treatment costs can more than double if cancer goes undetected and spreads.  Costs for treatment can go from about $21,000 to over $52,000.  Approximately 21,700 women in California will be diagnosed with breast cancer this year and more than 4,000 will lose their battle with the disease.

AB 1640 passed the Senate 34-0 yesterday and the Assembly today 75-0.  Further information about AB 1640 is available at http://www.leginfo.ca.gov.