JUNEAU (AP) -- Gov. Tony Knowles tried to drum up support Wednesday for a bill that would pay for breast and cervical cancer treatment for some women who lack insurance.
Knowles addressed about 80 people who had gathered on the Capitol steps for what was billed as a rally for women's health. The governor said the bill is a priority this session.
''This is a piece of must-have legislation,'' Knowles said. ''It's not a political must-have, it's a public must-have.''
Senate Bill 38 would take advantage of a change in federal law that lets states provide treatment through Medicaid for women whose breast or cervical cancer is detected through a federally funded screening program for low-income women.
Barbara DuBois, an Anchorage hairdresser who was diagnosed with breast cancer in December, said it's a travesty that there's a program to detect cancer, but no money to help women if cancer is found.
She said she couldn't afford health insurance, and now she's racking up more in medical bills in a month than she makes in a year. She fears she may be forced into bankruptcy.
If the bill passes, women whose income is less than 250 percent of the poverty level would be able to receive treatment as long as their cancer was detected through the federal screening program. The income guidelines mean a single woman with an income of $26,075 would qualify, according to the Department of Health and Social Services.
The state estimates it would treat about 42 women a year if the bill passes. The federal government would pay $413,000 of the cost, with the state pitching in $175,000.
''The federal government has made us an offer we cannot refuse, that we should not refuse as a state,'' Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer said.
But Sen. Lyda Green, whose Health Education and Social Services Committee would need to hear the bill, isn't so sure the state should take up the offer.
Green, R-Mat-Su, said the committee is considering setting up a task force to look at Medicaid issues and would include the breast and cervical cancer issue among its topics. The task force would meet during the interim after the session ends in May.
As a breast cancer survivor herself, Green said she sympathizes with women battling the disease. The state has to look carefully, though, at expanding Medicaid, she said. The cost of the medical program for the poor is growing without adding any new coverage.
''These are not easy decisions,'' Green said. ''These are very, very tough policy calls.''
Knowles' spokesman Bob King said a task force to look at Medicaid is fine, but the governor still wants the legislation to pass this year.
''An interim task force on containing Medicaid costs won't treat the women who have been diagnosed with these cancers,'' King said.
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