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Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Bill Headed to President

After some last minute negotiating, the House gave final voice vote approval to a bill (H.R. 4386) to provide treatment to low-income women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer under a federal screening program, sending the bill to the President. The House originally passed the bill on May 9 (see The Source, 5/12/00, p. 1), but the Senate amended the House version and approved it on October 4 (see The Source, 10/6/00, p. 2). This bill is one of the legislative priorities for the Congressional Caucus for Women’s Issues (CCWI).

The final bill would give states the option of providing Medicaid coverage to women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer under the Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. H.R. 4386 would provide an enhanced federal match identical to the match provided under the State Children’s Health Insurance Program, which ranges from 65 percent to 83.76 percent, depending upon the state. The provision was included in the Senate-passed version. The original House-passed bill would have provided an enhanced match of 75 percent with states contributing 25 percent of the program costs.

Prior to floor debate, controversy erupted over the rule governing debate on the bill, which would have amended the Senate-passed bill. Under the rule, House-passed language to require the CDC to study the prevalence of human papillomavirus (HPV), as well as to develop an education campaign on the disease, would have been attached to the bill. Another modified House-passed provision to require the Department of Health and Human Services (HHS) to reexamine current condom labels also would have been attached to the bill under the rule. As passed by the House originally, the language would have required condom manufacturers to put labels on condoms stating that they will not prevent HPV and that HPV can cause cervical cancer.

Senators adamantly opposed the inclusion of the HPV language, saying that such a move would prevent the bill from being enacted this year. As a result, the rule was modified to remove the language pertaining to HPV, only after its sponsor, Rep. Tom Coburn (R-OK), received the assurance of the House leadership and the CCWI that the language would be attached to another piece of legislation prior to adjournment.

“There is no question I have lost the battle on this bill to have women have the knowledge about what the risks are from this virus. And that has been my goal all along,” stated Rep. Coburn. “Can I have a commitment from the Women’s Caucus that before this session of Congress is over, that we in fact will have in some language somewhere a study and a prevention message for the young people in this country as relating to human papillomavirus?”

CCWI Co-Chairs Sue Kelly (R-NY) and Carolyn Maloney (D-NY) agreed to work toward including the language elsewhere. “He has my absolute commitment to work this year to find some vehicle to have this study and the important work that he is supporting in a package this year,” stated Rep. Maloney, adding: “The Senate has said they want a clean bill. That is what we want to give them.”

Rep. Kelly agreed, saying, “I support the efforts of my colleague, and I look forward to joining him in the future to have these concerns considered. I join my colleague…the Co-Chair of the House Women’s Caucus, in committing to work within the Women’s Caucus for the inclusion of his bill in any vehicle possible this year so we can address this dangerous virus.”

Despite the controversy, Members praised the passage of the bill. “There is nothing worse than being diagnosed with breast cancer or cervical cancer and then being told, sorry, there is nothing we can do to help….This bill is for working women who have no insurance, and it is crucial that we do our part to help them with the tough time in their lives,” stated Rep. Sue Myrick (R-NC), sponsor of the bill and a breast cancer survivor.

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