Cancer bill may move in Senate

Posted: Sunday, April 29, 2001

State Sen. Lyda Green says she's ready to move a bill that would pay for breast and cervical cancer treatment for some women who lack insurance.

Gov. Tony Knowles calls Senate Bill 38 "must-have" legislation. Senate and House Democrats, frustrated with the bill's progress to date, collected public testimony on the measure Friday morning.

The bill even attracted the attention of U.S. Sen. Frank Murkowski, an Alaska Republican, who broke with tradition and urged passage of a specific measure before the Legislature.

Green, a Matanuska-Susitna Borough Republican and chairwoman of Health, Education and Social Services Committee, said she plans to take testimony on the bill Monday and that she expects it to advance.

"We'll pass the bill out if we have the votes," Green said.

Senate Bill 38 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.

Green has expressed reservations about expanding the Medicaid. She also has questioned changing the rules for one form of cancer while income eligibility for other diseases remain the same.

Lt. Gov. Fran Ulmer said Friday that Alaska has the second highest rate of breast cancer in the nation. She said one of seven Alaska women will be stricken with the disease in their lifetimes.

"This is truly an epidemic," she said.

Survival rates are far higher with early detection, she said, which led Congress to establish the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The program provided screenings to uninsured, low-income women but did not provide insurance coverage that allowed them to receive medical treatment.

Barbara DuBois, an Anchorage hairdresser, said she has incurred a $50,000 debt paying for her cancer treatment.

"Bankruptcy is probably in my future," she said.

Her profession is not one that usually offers insurance as a benefit and affordable insurance was impossible to find, she said. She urged passage of the bill to allow women to avoid giving up all income and assets to receive treatment.

"Women should not be giving up their jobs," she said.

Murkowski urged legislators to approve the money for the program because it's linked to an existing federal screening program. It should not, he said, "be viewed as a precedent for extending Medicaid eligibility body part by body part."

"With such an epidemic in our state, I would hate for Alaska to stand out as one of the few states that fail to provide this life-or-death benefit," Murkowski wrote.



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