Monday, June 7, 2004

Proposal seeks cancer funds

Plan would have insurance cover Pap test

By Amy McCullough
Enquirer Columbus Bureau

COLUMBUS - Tina Curry believes she would not have gotten cancer if she'd had health insurance.

As a single mother with three kids, Curry, a 48-year-old Butler County resident, said she was living a "bare bones existence" before she got cervical cancer in October 2003. She said she couldn't afford to get the Pap smear that might have detected the human papillomavirus early - before it turned to cancer.

Cervical cancer is the only female cancer with a known cure and can be preventable if proper precautions are taken. But last year alone 4,000 women died from the disease.

The problem, said Rep. Catherine Barrett, D-Cincinnati, is that few women know what steps need to be taken.

Barrett introduced a bill in the Ohio House late last month that would require insurance companies to cover the cost of a new screening, which she says is 100 percent accurate in detecting the virus that causes cervical cancer. She hopes the measure will pass when the legislature reconvenes after summer break.

If it does, the bill would require insurance companies to cover the screening the same as a woman's annual Pap smear; however, the new test would be needed only once every three to five years.

The slow-moving virus, called HPV, is known to be the root cause of cervical cancer. Most women get an annual Pap smear to check for the virus and other sexually transmitted diseases.

But for Curry and women without health insurance, the cost often prohibits them from receiving the test. Curry said that before she got cancer it had been about 14 years since her last Pap smear.

"I didn't have any way that I could scrimp and save. I was raising three kids by myself and trying to give them as normal a life as possible," she said. "The last seven to eight months for me were a real trip. It certainly would have been a different year if I'd have been able to have the annual pap smear, and not had to go through what I went through."

Barrett said she hopes the HPV screenings will eradicate the disease among Ohio women.

"The bottom line is that no woman should die of cervical cancer," Barrett said. "No family should lose a wife, a mother or a sister because of cervical cancer."

Barrett has gained bipartisan support. Seventeen of the 30 co-sponsors attended the press conference at the statehouse when it was introduced, including Reps. Tyrone Yates, D-Cincinnati, Michelle Glass Schneider, R-Cincinnati, and Jean Schmidt, R-Loveland.

"I will work with Rep. Barrett to make sure this legislation is a success for a very selfish reason: I'm a woman and I don't want to have cervical cancer," Schmidt said.

Despite lawmakers' support, the bill is drawing criticism from medical professionals.

Dr. Molly Katz, an obstetrician gynecologist in Cincinnati and former president of the Academy of Medicine of Cincinnati, said there is still a lot to learn about the HPV screenings.

"Having this as part of legislation when it is just evolving science just seems inappropriate," Katz said.

Katz and other doctors say the insurance mandate gives the government too much control over medical issues.

Although the bill requires insurance companies to pick up the $50 cost of the test, it does not apply to Medicaid or more than 160,000 uninsured adults in the Tristate.

Schmidt also is working to pass her own bill through the legislature aimed at preventing breast cancer among women.

Under current law hospitals are reimbursed a maximum of $85 for each breast cancer screening; however, the average cost of the test is about $105. Schmidt's bill would raise that cap and ensure it increases with inflation.

"Simple math shows that Ohio's medical professionals are losing money on this procedure and over 30 clinics have been forced to close their doors (in Ohio)," Schmidt said.

With the limited number of clinics still available, women have to wait even longer before they can be tested and possibly treated for cancer.

Her bill passed in the House May 26 with a vote of 96-2.

Rep. Tom Brinkman, R-Cincinnati, was the only area lawmaker who voted against the breast cancer bill, saying the additional $2.3 million annual cost is too much for an already overburdened state budget to handle.

The bill now heads to the Senate, which is unlikely to meet again until after the November election.

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