The health care law, known as the Affordable Care Act, provides that beginning next year, no one can be denied coverage or charged astronomical rates because of a pre-existing condition such as cancer, and patients cannot have their plans revoked because they have gotten sick. Plans sold in the new marketplaces will have to offer essential benefits to prevent, treat and survive a life-threatening disease such as cancer, and patients with low and moderate incomes may be eligible for tax credits that reduce their costs. Coverage for plans sold in the marketplaces begins as soon as Jan. 1.
"This Breast Cancer Awareness Month, people with cancer and their families have the security of knowing that soon they will no longer have to worry about whether they can get the care they need," said John R. Seffrin, PhD, chief executive officer of the American Cancer Society and its advocacy affiliate the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN). "The health care law dramatically improves access to mammography and proven breast cancer treatments that save lives."
The health care law requires health plans to cover annual preventive mammograms for women starting at age 40, and BRCA1 and BRCA2 genetic testing and counseling for women with a family history of breast or ovarian cancer, all at no cost to patients. The law also bans lifetime dollar limits on coverage and restricts annual dollar limits, protections that begin next year.
Even with the health care law in effect, millions of women throughout the country, especially in those states that do not accept federal funding to increase access to health coverage through Medicaid, will continue to rely on the successful National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) for education, care coordination and access to early detection and prevention services. Administered by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the program provides access to lifesaving cancer screenings and treatment for millions of low-income, uninsured and underinsured women.
Over the past two decades, the program has provided 11 million screening exams to more than 4.4 million women in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, 5 U.S. territories and 11 American Indian/Alaska Native organizations, resulting in the detection of almost 60,000 breast and 3,300 invasive cervical cancers. Unfortunately, the program is inadequately funded, and the federal budget sequester has reduced the number of women who can access its lifesaving early detection services by tens of thousands.
"Without additional funding for this program, millions of women will continue to go without mammograms, increasing their risk of a late-stage cancer diagnosis when the disease is more expensive to treat and difficult to survive," said Chris Hansen, president of ACS CAN. "Congress must restore funding for this critical program that provides a safety net for many women and has been proven to save lives."
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women. This year in the U.S., breast cancer is expected to be diagnosed in more than 232,000 women, and take more than 40,000 lives. For cervical cancer, approximately 12,000 new cases will be diagnosed and more than 4,000 women will lose their lives this year. Many of these deaths from breast and cervical cancers could be avoided if cancer screening rates increased among women at risk.
The American Cancer Society recently released a consumer guide, The Health Care Law: How It Can Help People With Cancer And Their Families, which explains many of the law's more than 100 critical provisions that will benefit cancer patients, survivors and their families.