Bill to expand Medicaid coverage for breast, cervical cancer

Posted: Sunday, January 14, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- Some uninsured women facing costly treatment for cervical or breast cancer would be covered by Medicaid if the Legislature passes a bill introduced by Gov. Tony Knowles.

The measure Knowles forwarded to lawmakers on Friday would take advantage of a recent congressional action to extend Medicaid coverage to women with the diseases who make too much money to qualify under current rules.

''These women have been trapped in a terrible predicament,'' Knowles said. Instead of worrying about how to pay their doctor bills -- or not being able to afford treatment at all -- they can focus all their energy on fighting the cancer and getting healthy again.''

Treatment for the diseases costs an average of $18,000, said Health and Social Services Commissioner Karen Perdue.

Along with Perdue and other public health officials, Knowles was joined at the news conference by Kate Coleman, a Juneau woman battling breast cancer without insurance coverage. She described dealing with an unhelpful medical establishment and the prospect of massive debts as she tries to fight her cancer.

''This is a predicament that no cancer patient wants to face,'' Coleman said.

About 300 Alaskans are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, while 20 women in the state develop cervical cancer, Perdue said.

''It is likely that more than 50 women will die this year from these diseases,'' Perdue said. ''This will surely enable us to reduce untimely deaths of Alaska women who have cancer.''

Perdue estimated the program would cover about 70 Alaska women a year and cost the state about $175,000. The rest of the program's $500,000 cost would come from the federal government.

''The state's cost for enacting this bill is dirt cheap,'' Knowles said. ''I can't think of any better way to spend that money.''

The program would be an outgrowth of an exiting program that covers tests and screening for breast and cervical cancer. Both diseases are much less life-threatening if they are caught early, Perdue said.

Only women whose cancer is detected through the screening program would qualify for the new treatment assistance, Perdue said.

Sen. Lyda Green, chairwoman of the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee, said she needed time to review the bill, but expressed reservations about expanding the Medicaid program.

''I really would like to hear more about this and see what it does,'' said Green, R-Palmer.

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