Senators amend, advance cancer bill

Posted: Wednesday, May 02, 2001

JUNEAU (AP) -- A bill that would pay for breast and cervical cancer treatment for some women who lack insurance was advanced from a Senate committee Monday with two changes: a provision to end the program after two years, and a requirement for a study to determine if the cancers could be prevented with behavioral changes.

The Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee added the sunset clause, which would end insurance for eligible cancer victims after two years unless the Legislature at that time approves new legislation to extend the program.

Senators also added a requirement for a study of environmental, behavioral or genetic factors that are associated with the onset of breast and cervical cancers and for recommendations ''about behavioral actions that may reduce the occurrence or likelihood of these types of breast or cervical cancers.''

House Bill 65 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. 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.

That means a single woman earning $26,075 would qualify without having to spend down her assets.

The state estimates it would treat about 42 women a year if the bill passes using a $413,000 federal grant, which requires a state match of $175,000.

Gov. Tony Knowles calls Senate Bill 38 ''must-have'' legislation and U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, R-Alaska, took the unusual step of writing to legislators to urge them to take advantage of the federal program.

Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage, voted against amendments to the bill. She said the sunset provision probably conflicts with federal guidelines that prohibit patients from being turned away after they have been accepted into the program.

Davis also said that what caused the cancer is between the patient and her doctors.

''I am more concerned with treating the people regardless of how they got the disease,'' she said.

Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said if Alaska women have high rates of breast cancer, health officials should find out why.

''I want to do what we can to identify why this happens and have recommendations on how behavior and environments can be changed,'' Leman said, such as finding out whether obesity or tobacco use could be contributing to the cancer rate.

The bill now moves to the Finance Committee for consideration.

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