Arizona Governor Jan Brewer has signed into law new rules that mean wider access to breast and cervical cancer treatment for women who were previously 'locked out' of the system.
The changes, part of the new State budget, are the result of months of work by local lawmakers and Arizona's two Susan G. Komen Affiliates. They mean that hundreds of Arizona women who faced being locked out of breast and cervical cancer treatment will now have increased access to healthcare, to the tune of $8m.
Backing the effort were the Arizona Affiliates of Susan G. Komen for the Cure, the American Cancer Society Cancer Action Network (ACS CAN), Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson, and Rep. Kate Brophy McGee, R-Phoenix.
The issue came to light for Rep. Heinz after Bobbie Thayer of Peoria visited a mammography provider in early 2011 for a mammogram. She knew that something wasn’t right with her breasts. What she didn’t know was that by walking into that particular clinic versus another, she had opened a “wrong door” that would automatically make her ineligible for federal funds for cancer treatment.
In Arizona, low-income and uninsured women aged 40-64 have been able to receive breast and cervical cancer screening through the Arizona Department of Health Services Well Woman HealthCheck Program (WWHP). Women who have been enrolled in the program, screened and diagnosed by a WWHP provider are then eligible for treatment through the Arizona Health Care Cost Containment System (AHCCCS), the state’s Medicaid program.
But State restrictions meant that if a woman was not screened by a WWHP provider, she was considered ineligible for AHCCCS-covered treatment services, even if she met all other eligibility criteria. That meant a low-income or uninsured woman can be denied cancer treatment simply because she was diagnosed in the wrong facility.
Bobbie, who was ultimately diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer and has spent the past year fighting for her health as well as for treatment coverage, is only one of the estimated hundreds of Arizona women who have been affected by this restriction each year.
The provisions of HB2472, also known as “Bobbie’s Law”, were included in the budget passed May 1 and signed by Governor Jan Brewer the following week. Bobbie’s Law was designed to help ensure there was no “wrong door” to walk through when it came to prevention and treatment of breast and cervical cancer, eliminating the eligibility restriction based on location of diagnosis.
Although no separate Bill was passed, its provisions are now law as part of the Fiscal Year 2013 Budget. Lawmakers voted to set aside $2m in State funds to address the issue. Another $6m is expected in federal funds.
Jaimie Leopold, executive director of Komen Southern Arizona, welcomed the move. “This is a long time coming, and it’s very satisfying to see this change. Daily we hear of stories from uninsured and low-income women who have been cut from the state’s AHCCCS program. Lifting this ‘wrong door’ restriction is a step in the right direction,” she said.
“I’ve been a doctor for nearly 10 years and it is tragic that anyone should have to go without lifesaving treatment because they are afraid they won’t be able to pay the bill,” said Rep. Matt Heinz, D-Tucson District 29 and physician. “No woman should be denied breast cancer treatment because of her income level. Bobbie Thayer was brave enough to share her story and fight for change. Bobbie’s work will help save hundreds of women like her.”
“We applaud legislators for understanding the need for enhancing access to treatment services after screening and diagnosis regardless of the location. Preventative screenings lead to early stage diagnosis and low-cost, effective treatment,” said Brian Hummel, ACS CAN Arizona Government Relations Director.
About Arizona’s access to Medicaid services
Under the national Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000, states have the option to extend full Medicaid coverage to women who would otherwise not have health care coverage for treatment of breast or cervical cancer. However, states have flexibility in how they define whether a woman was screened through the state program. Arizona has up until now been abiding by the most-restrictive Option 1. HB2472 was designed to classify Arizona as an Option 3 state, in which women can receive Medicaid services regardless of whether they were originally screened, as long as they continue to meet other eligibility requirements.