So Where Do Low-Income Women Go for Breast Cancer Screening?

I appreciated all the views from yesterday’s evening blog post. There were comments that agreed with me and those that did not. The amazing thing is that all were respectful and that was a gift for all of us. A great question asked by one of the readers named Lissa was this: Where do women who are 40 or older and are low-income with no insurance go for early detection and screening of breast cancer.”

Excellent question! It’s a great opportunity to offer this information and encourage people to have information about choices that are available for women’s health. So here goes:

In 1993 congress approved legislation that gave categorical funds for breast and cervical cancer screening. They made the funding available to all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S territories and 12 federally recognized tribes – including Hopi Tribe and Navajo Nation.

The rationale was simple – finding both of these diseases early saves millions of dollars in health costs and lives – cervical cancer is 100% preventable and early detection of breast cancer yields a 95% survival rate. This program is called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The program is run by each state and available for direct services through hospitals, health centers and clinics, and visiting nurse associations. It is specifically for women who are 250% of poverty level and below – to put that into context it means that a woman with a family of 6 can make just under $75,000 a year to be eligible. The limits are according to income and family size.

The program has grown through the years to include funding not only for screening but also for diagnostic service and finally in 2003 the funds expanded to include treatment – a legislative action we had all been waiting for. The parameters for the program are that a woman has to be 40 years old or above; at or below 250% of poverty level; and a citizen of the United States. It is a great program and has screened literally millions of women and saved millions of lives through this early detection. The funding is also available to women under 40 for cervical cancer screening as it is proven that finding and removing the lesions that can grow into cervical cancer through pap tests is life-saving.

I’ve worked in this program off and on since 2000 in both Massachusetts and Arizona. We are currently at a different place in Massachusetts where we have undergone healthcare reform so it is constantly in a state of change, but that’s another blog post. You can find more information here: http://www.cdc.gov/cancer/nbccedp/. But what is critical to remember is that there are other funds beyond Planned Parenthood available to help low income women. Besides this program, there are Federally Qualified Health Centers throughout the nation. FQHC’s (as they are lovingly called) are funded to provide care for the uninsured and under insured in both urban and rural areas. They serve disparate populations and the ones I’ve worked with do it extremely well with caring providers, nurses and social workers. I have included a fact sheet here: https://www.cms.gov/mlnproducts/downloads/fqhcfactsheet.pdf that will tell you more about these centers.

We do not have a perfect health system, there is a lot of work to do. But there are organizations that offer comprehensive care to women and do it well indeed. Thanks for reading – please join the conversation! Also help spread the word! If you posted the Defense post of yesterday on your wall, post this one as well so people can learn more and have better talking points. For information on where the program is available in your state click here

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