JUNEAU (AP) -- After sometimes acrimonious testimony, the state Senate approved legislation Saturday night that will allow more Alaskans into a federal program that pays for breast and cervical cancer treatment for women who lack insurance.
Senators voted 20-0 in favor of House Bill 65, which 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 130 percent above the federal poverty level already qualify.
Under provisions of the bill, women whose income is less than 250 percent of the poverty level would be able to receive treatment.
A single woman earning $26,075 would qualify without having to spend down her assets. Women with children would have higher income levels.
The state estimates it would treat about 42 more women a year if the bill passes, using a $413,000 federal grant, which requires a state match of $175,000.
The U.S. Senate unanimously approved expansion of the program from screening to treatment and Alaska Sen. Frank Murkowski urged legislators to let Alaska women participate. Gov. Tony Knowles made the legislation one of his priorities for the session.
What stimulated the debate Saturday were changes made by the Senate Health, Education and Social Services Committee. The changes add a requirement to report on whether the cancers could be prevented with behavioral changes and a provision to end the program after two years.
Sen. Loren Leman, R-Anchorage, said the reporting requirement had been unfairly portrayed as an intrusion into the lives of cancer patients. Leman said the reporting provision would merely give the state access to information already collected by federal health officials.
''It never was my intent that anybody be snooping into the private affairs of anybody,'' Leman said.
Leman said the information is important to make Alaska women aware of factors that could cause the cancers, since rates are so high in the state.
Senate Democrats said the reporting requirement is unnecessary. The information is readily available for any legislator who wants it, said Senate Minority Leader Johnny Ellis, D-Anchorage.
Democrats also took exception to the two-year sunset clause.
''Breast and cervical cancer doesn't respect a two-year time limit,'' Ellis said.
He said he could not conceive of the Legislature withdrawing from the program after two years.
''It would be cruel to bring people into this program and tell them they could be cut off,'' said Sen. Bettye Davis, D-Anchorage.
Sen. Lyda Green, R-Matanuska-Susitna Valley, who has expressed concern for expanding Medicaid programs, said the review was warranted because other options for insurance and treatment may become available for the eligible women in the next two years.
The bill could be reconsidered Sunday before moving back to the House for consideration of Senate changes.
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