October is Breast Cancer Awareness month and many of us have been personally affected or have aunts, mothers or friends that have been impacted by this disease. But what does it mean to be “aware?” We see the pink ribbons, wristbands, and t-shirts but awareness is something that goes beyond displaying support for all that is “pink.” Despite facts known that early detection such as mammograms is key for treatment and regular screenings, too many women still face barriers to such screenings and diagnosis.
A disproportionate amount of women in poverty, as well as those who are underinsured have not had access to quality and affordable care, preventing many of these women from being diagnosed with breast cancer as early as they should, thus inhibiting them from being actively aware of their breast cancer.
The American Cancer Society recommends that women get yearly screenings starting at age 40. For women who are at high risk, who have a family history of breast cancer or have a mutation of the BRCA1 or BRCA2 gene – screenings are recommended more frequently, depending on your individual risk factors.
Despite the recommendations, statistics show that women who are uninsured for a 12 month period are half as likely to have received preventative screenings as a woman who had consistent insurance. And for those women who do have insurance, they unfortunately are faced with the risk of reaching lifetime caps for coverage, sometimes forcing them to stop coverage. An estimated ten percent of cancer patients reach lifetime limits on their insurance policies causing them to find alternate means to continue treatment.
Thankfully, the Affordable Care Act has already begun to implement some critical changes to help in the fight against breast cancer and help encourage women to be actively aware. Now, women who are enrolled in health plans that started on or after September 23, 2010 will have access to covered preventive services-including breast cancer mammograms and genetic counseling. Furthermore, lifetime caps on coverage are banned and lifetime caps will be banned, giving women the ability to focus on their treatment and not on if they can continue to afford treatment.
It is estimated that 4,000 annual deaths from breast cancer could be prevented by increasing the amount of women who receive preventative care and screenings to 90 percent. The Wisconsin Alliance for Women’s Health is confident that new reform legislation under the Affordable Care Act will ensure access to quality and affordable care to Wisconsin’s women and help the fight against breast cancer.