Juneau Empire on cheap but life-saving legislation:

Posted: Monday, February 12, 2001

There are worse things than for a woman to detect a lump in her breast.

Amid the sudden thoughts of cancer, survival and its alternative, a woman may be burdened by additional concerns about treatment costs. If she is poor and has no insurance, she may have doubts about even seeking medical treatment for a potentially life-threatening illness.

While Congress may be dismissed as a partisan battleground populated by politicians out of touch with all but lobbyists and campaign contributors, its members nevertheless recently broadened eligibility requirements for coverage of breast and cervical cancer under Medicaid.

Previously, coverage was limited to those with incomes of 72 percent of the federal poverty rate - poorer than poor. Now treatment under Medicaid can be extended to women with incomes as high as 250 percent of the poverty level.

The idea was to help women who earned too much for Medicaid coverage and far less than enough to purchase health insurance on their own.

The state would be required to pay about one-third of the cost and the federal government would pick up the rest. Only women whose cancer is detected through a screening program already in place would qualify for the expanded Medicaid coverage. The number of Alaska women eligible for coverage is estimated at 40 to 70.

The total cost is estimated by Gov. Tony Knowles at about $500,000 a year. The state's share would be less than $200,000 annually - ''dirt cheap'' in the words of the governor.

Expanded Medicaid coverage for breast and cervical cancer patients in Alaska cannot happen without legislative authorization. A bill introduced in the Legislature on Jan. 16 would become effective immediately upon passage.

For those who have been or will be diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer and for whom medical insurance is a dream, the stakes are high. For the wealthiest state in the union, the cost is low - too low to hesitate.

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