(WBNG Binghamton) October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s the time of year when women are reminded to have their annual clinical breast exam and mammogram.
According to a news release:
For many women, there are barriers to having these life-saving cancer screenings, including lack of health insurance coverage. The New York State Cancer Services Program offers free breast cancer screenings to uninsured and under-insured women, 40-64 who qualify.
Locally, the Broome County Health Department serves Broome, Chenango, Tioga, Chemung and Schuyler counties.
“It’s easy for woman to find out if they qualify for the program. All they have to do is call us and we can let them know if they are eligible right over the phone. Once they are in the program they schedule their own appointments just like any other patient. The difference is we pay the bill on their behalf,” says Program Supervisor Carrie Abbott.
The Cancer Services Program of Broome, Chenango & Tioga Counties partners with the EncorePlus Program and the Chenango Health Network to perform outreach in the community and make reminder calls to women annually when they are due for their screenings. These programs also assist with overcoming other barriers to accessing care such as daycare or transportation needs.
“Our goal is to make sure that all women have equal access to these screenings and we help them whenever we can” says Crystal Lown, Program Coordinator of the EncorePlus Program of Broome County.
In many cases women are in need of further diagnostic testing when their screening results are abnormal. The Cancer Services Program also offers limited diagnostic testing such as ultrasounds and biopsies when indicated.
“According to the 2005-2009 New York State Cancer Registry, there are approximately 163 new cases of breast cancer diagnosed annually in Broome County alone.
Many of these cases have been diagnosed at an early stage when treatment is much more successful due to the services offered by the Cancer Services Program,” states Claudia Edwards, Broome County Public Health Director.
During the 2012-2013 program year, the Cancer Services Program of Broome, Chenango & Tioga Counties provided 795 clinical breast exams, 786 mammograms, 98 diagnostic mammograms, 225 ultrasounds, and over 50 breast biopsies. “Should a program participant be diagnosed with cancer, our staff is able to assist with an application for the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program.
This program works directly with the Cancer Services Program to offer full Medicaid coverage for the duration of cancer treatment for those eligible. Eligibility criteria for that program mirrors the eligibility criteria of the Cancer Services Program, making it more available to those who need it the most,” says Abbott.
Abbott says, “I have been with this program for 13 years now and I have seen the difference it has made for thousands of women. Seeing the way lives are changed after a diagnosis, the battles that these women face with courage and strength is remarkable. It is a humbling experience to be able to help in this way and I am thankful to be a part of it.”
Vicki Eggleston knows firsthand the difference the Cancer Services Program can make. Vicki was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2005. Vicki had health insurance while she was a bookkeeper for over 11 years until she was laid off. She was unable to afford the high cost of the COBRA plan that was offered. She tried to pay for the chemotherapy, mastectomy and 6 weeks of radiation treatments on her own but the mounting medical bills proved to be too much of a financial burden.
“I decided that since I could not afford insurance, I would stop the follow up treatment,” Vicki explained. “Financially it was far beyond my means!”
Because Vicki had health insurance during her initial cancer screening and follow-up diagnostic testing, she was not told about the Cancer Services Program. Once the medical staff at the hospital learned that she had lost her insurance, Vicki was referred to the program. Vicki called the Cancer Services Program, met with staff to complete the Medicaid Cancer Treatment Program application and was covered within days.
“My life was given back! My hope was restored!” Vicki states. Vicki helps staff spread the word about the assistance she was offered through the program and encourages other women to call if they are uninsured and foregoing breast cancer screenings due to lack of health insurance coverage. “These services are my lifeline. Without them, I would have been lost,” Vicki says of the Cancer Services Program.
Vicki is now in remission and is appreciative of the second chance she feels she was given. She is thankful that she is now able to focus on her good health and her son. “Every day is a blessing. I cannot tell you how much this program has done for me and my family and all they ask is that I tell others about it. So I do, every day,” Vicki states.
The Cancer Services Program is a program of the New York State Department of Health and the Centers for Disease Control. This program offers breast and cervical cancer screenings to women age 40-64 that are uninsured, at average risk and asymptomatic. The program may be able to assist with women at increased risk or symptomatic at a younger age. Colorectal cancer screenings are also offered to men and women age 50-64 who are uninsured.
For those who are at increased risk due to personal or family history of colorectal cancer or pre-cancerous colorectal polyps, the program may be able to assist at a younger age. Call 607.778.3900 for program information or to be screened for eligibility. The Cancer Services Program covers every county in New York State. If you or someone you know resides in a different county than those listed in the article, call and staff can offer the contact information of the program in each county.
Carrie Abbott and staff of the Cancer Services Program encourage people to learn more about the program and to find out if they or someone they know may be eligible. The program helps people that are over income for public insurance programs, but under income for private plans.
Many have jobs that do not offer health insurance or coverage that does not pay for these screenings.
“We try to make participation in this program very easy. It’s a simple phone call to find out if you are eligible, but it could be the phone call that saves your life.”