Three Trips to Austin, Three Bills Impacting Women’s Lives, Three Committees’ Decisions that Mean Life or Death
Being at the State Capitol is always a humbling experience. As I walk the marbled halls and climb those huge expanses of stairs from floor to floor, from meeting to meeting with Representatives and Senators, I think about the thousands of decisions that have been made in those chambers and behind closed doors – and how those decisions have shaped the lives of Texans – especially Texas women.
Over the past six weeks, I’ve made three trips to Austin. Given written and oral testimony on behalf of three bills that will impact the women we serve – all the women, both insured and uninsured.
HB195 concerns Diagnostic Mammography Coverage. Most insurance companies cover screening mammograms at 100% with no co-pay or out of pocket expenses. Yet, the cost of a diagnostic mammogram is usually applied against a deductible. With today’s sky high deductibles, a lot of women have trouble scraping up the money needed for a diagnostic work-up. Ironic, since that diagnostic mammogram is the one mammogram needed the most—to determine if an area seen on a screening mammogram needs follow-up or if a lump in the breast needs a biopsy. I shared with our representatives, the number of women who have delayed diagnostic mammograms because of cost and how many of them ultimately were diagnosed—some at late stages. At The Rose, uninsured women have a better chance of receiving a total work-up than insured. We raise millions of dollars every year to care for the uninsured but when an insured woman needs help, our hands are tied. Our funders are clear in their guidelines: their gifts are meant to provide services to the uninsured woman whose annual income is no more than 200% of the poverty level. Their generosity does not extend to the insured.
My second testimony was to the Senate Committee on Health and Human Services in support of Senate Bill 224 recommending the two year extension of the Cancer Prevention Research Institute of Texas (CPRIT) Sunset Date from 2021 to 2023. This Bill is needed because there is funding left to be used for CPRIT and in the battle against cancer, all cancers, every dollar counts. People who provide public testimony are allowed 3 minutes to present. 180 seconds to convey to the lawmakers the importance of any Bill. In my mind, few are as important as those related to CPRIT. Hundreds of women are alive today because of CPRIT. Since The Rose was awarded its first CPRIT grant in 2010, 13,005 women have been served, of which 4,886 receiving their first ever mammogram. We diagnosed 278 women and of those 106 women had their first ever mammogram. A total of 8,063 (62%) of our patients were served through our Mobile Program living in 41 different counties.
As I spoke, I displayed an enlarged map showing a shaded area that covered most of Southeast Texas – all the counties served by our Mobile Mammography program because of CPRIT funding. Then I flipped the placard over and showed another map. This one had dozens more counties shaded in. The Committee members recognized those counties because they were in their districts. I could almost hear the question; Why would any woman travel 10 to 15 hours from as far West as Brewster or North as Collin or South as Nueces for services?
The answer is simple. She’s uninsured and she’s found a place to help her – The Rose.
I ended my time thanking the Committee for allowing us to serve so many Texas women and reminding them that the lives of so many more women are being trusted to them. Two more years would allow us to serve 3,000 more women and it all depends on their vote..
The last testimony was to the House Committee on Insurance asking support of HB1036 relating to coverage for certain breast cancer screening procedures under certain health benefit plans – specifically 3D mammography.
The Rose now offers 3D mammography to every woman – insured and uninsured. We know the technical advantages of 3D, how it increases the number of cancers detected at earlier stages and reduces the need for callbacks. We know mammography and its importance in reducing the mortality rate; we’ve known that for over thirty years. 3D is a major advancement in mammography and it is a mammogram that should be classified on par with the ‘older’ imagining methods.
The first time I testified in support of insurance coverage for screening mammograms was in 1989. That was nearly thirty years ago. Odd isn’t it? That once again, we have to fight to have a test covered, a test that will save a woman’s life?
I’m only one of many who make these trips to Austin, who wait patiently for their turn to speak, who give ‘testimony’ at Public Hearings in support of different Bills. Are any of our stories or statistics or impassioned requests heard? Does public testimony matter?
I certainly hope so.
The CPRIT funding is already designated and needs to be used as Texas Taxpayers intended – to find a cure for cancer. The other bills impact coverage. Ensuring this fair and equal coverage for mammography would not cost the State anything and would alleviate the cost sharing burden on women by requiring insurance companies to provide the same coverage for screening, diagnostic mammograms and 3D mammography.
None of the Bills will mean an additional cost to the State or to taxpayers.
If these Bills aren’t passed, there will be a cost. A cost so great, I cannot allow myself to consider it. Too many women’s lives are hanging in the balance…waiting for a vote…their vote.
I certainly hope we were heard.
To learn more about how this legislation impacts the lives of Texas women, read more on our blog Three Trips to Austin, Three Bills Impacting Women’s Lives, Three Committees’ Decisions that Mean Life or Death”. Details of the legislation can be found here.