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Senate Passes Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Bill

By unanimous consent, the Senate on October 4 passed a bill (S. 662) that would provide treatment to women diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer under a federal screening program. Created in 1990 under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Mortality Prevention Act (P.L. 101-354), the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) provides screening for breast and cervical cancer to underinsured and uninsured women. Although screening is authorized under the law, treatment is not. The House approved a similar measure (H.R. 4386) on May 9 (see The Source, 5/12/00, p. 1).

Sponsored by the late Sen. John Chafee (R-RI) and Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), S. 662 would give states the option of providing Medicaid coverage to women diagnosed under the NBCCEDP. The bill would provide an enhanced federal match to cover no less than 65 percent of the program’s costs. Upon enactment, the Senate-passed bill would be effective retroactively to October 1, 2000.

The provision is slightly different from the House-passed bill, which would provide an enhanced federal match to cover 75 percent of the costs, while states would contribute 25 percent of the costs. The House-passed bill would set the implementation date for October 1, 2001.

H.R. 4386 also includes language dealing with human papillomavirus (HPV) that is not contained in S. 662. The House-passed bill would require the CDC to study the prevalence of HPV, as well as to develop an education campaign on the disease. Condom manufacturers also would be required to put labels on condoms stating that they will not prevent HPV and that HPV can cause cervical cancer. These provisions are not included in S. 662.

Expressing her “unwavering support” for the bill, Sen. Olympia Snowe (R-ME) stated, “When the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program passed in 1990, we wanted to ensure that women would receive treatment. The law was written to require states to seek out services for the women they screen in order to receive timely and appropriate treatment. But the state programs are overwhelmed. Program administrators are scrambling to find treatment services—and even then these uninsured, low-income women must somehow come up with the money for costly procedures.”

Sen. Mikulski agreed, saying, “In 1990 when I wanted to include a treatment component in the screening program, I was told we didn’t have the money. Well, now we are running annual surpluses, instead of annual deficits. The screening program was just a down payment, not the only payment. We have the resources to provide treatment to these women. I think we ought to put our money into saving lives.”

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