Law aims for earlier cancer exams

Insurance to pay for more prostate screenings

Posted: Thursday, June 01, 2000

The way Mike Miller sees it, House Bill 416 is his gift to his sons -- and to the sons of other men diagnosed with prostate cancer.

The bill, signed into law Wednesday by Gov. Tony Knowles, lowers the age at which insurance companies are required to pay for prostate cancer screening from 50 to 40 for most men and from 40 to 35 for those at high risk.

Those at high risk of contracting the disease include African Americans and men with a family history of the disease.

Miller, a popular former swim coach in Juneau, has battled advanced prostate cancer since 1996. He asked Rep. Bill Hudson, a Juneau Republican, to introduce the bill and lobbied for its passage throughout the legislative process.

Miller is an example of why getting an exam at age 50 is not early enough for some men. He was diagnosed at age 43, and said his doctors estimate he may have had the disease since his mid-30s.

``If there's any type of gift I can leave my sons, this is it,'' Miller said Wednesday. Because he has prostate cancer, his sons statistically are at six times higher risk for the disease.

The bill passed the Legislature with little opposition. The cost of the exam is relatively low, and the insurance industry did not oppose the change.

With its passage Alaska has the lowest age for required insurance coverage for prostate screening of any state. ``We should be proud Alaska is the leader in this important health care campaign,'' Knowles said.

Providing insurance coverage for the exam is only part of the battle against prostate cancer's toll, Miller said.

A tougher fight is raising awareness of the need for the prostate cancer screening and convincing men to get the exam. ``For men it's not the macho thing to do,'' he said.

``My message to men ... is not to leave your head in the sand like an ostrich,'' he said. ``You do it not only for yourself, but do it for the ones who really care and love you.''

Miller has lived far longer than the 17 to 35 months his doctors predicted when he was diagnosed. He credits his survival to an experimental treatment that had some disabling side effects.

Although his doctors don't use the word remission in describing his condition, they say his cancer is stable.

Miller is on disability retirement now, but he's hardly ceased working. He's been an active volunteer locally, statewide and nationally in cancer education and lobbying efforts. He was presented Wednesday with a legislative citation honoring his work.

``Miller is an example to all Alaskans in that while he is fighting his own battle every day, he is also taking the time to raise public awareness and emphasize the need for annual testing,'' Hudson said, reading from the citation.

``His message of hope has reached many thousands of people, both within the state as well as nationally.''

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