Women pressure lawmakers to keep funding cancer treatment

Posted: Thursday, April 18, 2002

JUNEAU (AP) -- Last year breast cancer advocates lobbied the Legislature to fund treatment of breast and cervical cancer. This year they are asking lawmakers to keep paying for treatment.

Carla Williams of Alaska Breast Cancer Advocacy Partners said the group wants lawmakers to remove a ''sunset'' provision in a law passed last year.

That law provides payment for breast and cervical cancer treatment to women under a certain income level. The law expires June 25, 2003, and hearings have not been held on bills by Gov. Tony Knowles and Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, to make the program permanent.

''I am here to urge legislators to pass the bills, so women don't have to worry about their treatment,'' Williams said at a media event Wednesday with First Lady Susan Knowles.

Senate Health Education and Social Services Committee Chairwoman Lyda Green said she doesn't intend to hold a hearing on the bills because last year's legislation called for two years of data on the program's costs to be reported to the Legislature.

''We want it for the full two years before we go forward,'' said Green, R-Wasilla. ''It doesn't expire until next year. We'll have a hearing next year.''

Green expressed concerns last year about the cost of the program.

House Health Education and Social Services Committee Chairman Fred Dyson, R-Eagle River, said he's looking to Green for leadership on the issue.

''She's feeling strongly that we don't need to do anything now,'' Dyson said.

He said he has no doubt the program will be extended next year. He knows of no legislators who won't support doing so, he said.

Last year's legislation took 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.

Women could receive Medicaid-funded treatment if their income is less than 250 percent of the poverty level, and they don't have insurance. A single woman could make up to $27,600 a year and be eligible.

First Lady Knowles said from July 1, 2001, through the end of February, 38 women were treated through the program. The total cost has been $327,328, with the state's share of that $97,642.

Because the law does not expire until 2003, legislators could wait until next year to act, Health and Social Services Commissioner Jay Livey said. But he argues women with cancer should not be left with that uncertainty.

''The last thing people need to worry about when they're in the middle of treatment is whether or not that treatment is going to continue,'' Livey said.

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