Public Health Officials Refuse New Patients

The Health Department stops funding breast screenings for low-income women

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The "unprecedented fiscal challenges" claimed another victim this week as health officials decided to discontinue a cigarette tax-funded program that pays for breast cancer screenings for low-income women.

Mandatory changes were required this week by California Department of Public Health to the division, Every Woman Counts. The specialized division provides a cancer detection program for California's medically underserved women by giving them access to screening and diagnostic services for breast and cervical cancer.

The two biggest changes to the program according to a release are:

  • They will stop paying for breast cancer screening for women under 50.
  • They will stop enrolling all new patients for breast cancer screening until July 1.

The changes according to their Web site are based on the lack of state funding, and the only way to keep within their budget.

A statement released by Dr. Mark Horton, the state health officer, said "the short-term increases in state funding for the program have not been enough to keep pace with the growing demand for and cost of providing breast cancer screening services to the women in this program.

This comes on the heels of the recommendation by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. The task force suggested that women younger than 50 do not need regular mammograms. The Los Angeles Times printed a response by Dr. Willie Goffney to the claims of the task force.

Dr. Willie Goffney, a surgical cancer doctor who serves on the board of directors for the California division of the American Cancer Society, said he was disappointed by the state's decision to put the free screening program on hiatus and then limit who can enroll.

“We feel we are moving in the wrong direction. We know that screening for breast cancer and having access to that screening saves lives,” Goffney said. “So to take those resources from people who need that access means more people will fall through the cracks, and will lead to more deaths from breast cancer.”

Many in the industry of providing mammography services are worried that their businesses will not be able to survive, and more importantly, that these changes will deter women under 50 from being tested.

Copyright AP - Associated Press
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