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State program cuts mammogram coverage

December 4, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
A state program that's been paying for mammograms for thousands of uninsured women under 50 is cutting its coverage.Many women fall through the cracks of the medical system and are not able to get mammograms regularly, if at all.

In north Orange County, approximately 6,000 women went through the YWCA program this year.

Most of these women come from low-income households, are uninsured, and are over the age of 40. They receive coverage through a state program called Every Woman Counts.

"The 6,000 women are women who fall through the cracks in the medical care system and do not get breast health except for this program," said YWCA Executive Director Diane Masseth-Jones.

But the Every Woman Counts program is undergoing drastic changes. Physicians in California received a letter from the state this week. Starting next month, until July, no women will be allowed to enroll in the program. After July, only women 50 and older will be eligible. Women in their 40s will no longer be covered.

"I had breast cancer at the age of 49. If I didn't have a mammogram, I'm not sure if I would still be there with you," said Dr. Kea Ja Pai.

Dr. Ja Pai, an 18-year breast cancer survivor, knows the importance of early detection. She worries about her uninsured patients.

"About 28 percent, right now, of my patients in this program are under 50," said Dr. Ja Pai.

The letter comes just weeks after a controversial government task force report that said most women don't need a mammogram in their 40s and should get one every two years starting at 50.

Susan G. Komen for the Cure continues to stress women should get mammograms beginning at 40. Some say the timing of the letter and the report is not a coincidence.

"The report influenced them to focus more on the 50 years and older," said Masseth-Jones.

Dr. Mark Horton, director of the California Department of Public Health, released the following statement:

"The Every Woman Counts program is facing unprecedented fiscal challenges as a result of increasing demand for breast cancer screening services and declining state tobacco tax revenues. Even though the state has redirected resources to provide short-term funding increases for the program over the past few years, these increases have not been enough to keep pace with the growing demand for and cost of providing breast cancer screening services to women in the program."

Susan G. Komen for the Cure plans to hold an emergency meeting on Monday to discuss the cuts to the Every Woman Counts program. The organization is also collecting signatures for a petition.


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