HARRISBURG, Pa. (WHTM) — Two bills that would help pay for preventative breast cancer care took one more step toward the finish line Wednesday in Pennsylvania with the state senate unanimously passing both.
These bills are targeted specifically at women who are at high risk of breast cancer, eliminating out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer screenings not always covered by insurance.
“We are ecstatic,” Pat Halpin-Murphy, president and founder of the PA Breast Cancer Coalition, said. “Put these two bills together and it’s really game changing.”
One bill, sponsored by Senate Majority Leader Kim Ward would eliminate out-of-pocket costs for genetic testing and counseling.
“We’ve worked a long time, a good year and a half,” Ward said.
Genetic testing looks for gene mutations like BRCA1 and BRCA2 which put people at high risk of breast cancer and other cancers
“With a BRCA gene, you have a 70 to 80 percent chance of getting breast cancer, a 24 percent chance of getting ovarian cancer,” Ward said.
The second bill would require insurance companies to cover MRIs and ultrasounds for high-risk patients like women with dense breasts.
“They’re more than twice as effective in finding breast cancers,” Halpin-Murphy said.
For these women, it is difficult to see cancer in regular mammograms.
“Basically like looking for white bunnies in white piles of snow,” LGH chief of breast imaging Dr. Nitin Tanna said.
Halpin-Murphy said she has heard from women who’ve had to pay for these procedures themselves.
“She got a bill for over $4,000,” she said of one woman.
“Sometimes insurance companies will not pay for these additional screenings without genetic testing to back it up,” Tanna explained.
Senator Ward, a breast cancer survivor, said these bills could have helped her.
“They’re guessing that that cancer that I had was probably in there from three to five years. If I had had an MRI, we would have found it right away,” she said. Ward added she went for her yearly mammograms and had paid out-of-pocket for genetic testing which confirmed she had a BRCA gene mutation.
Halpin-Murphy is also a survivor, diagnosed with Stage 3 breast cancer.
“I had to have very strong chemotherapy and very, very strong radiation,” she said.
More than 30 years later, she still feels the effects.
“The chemotherapy has weakened my heart and the radiation has fried my lungs,” she said.
Knowing these bills could help women avoid that struggle is well worth the work.
“It’s going to be a new day,” Halpin-Murphy said.
These bills still have to pass the house before heading to the governor’s desk. With just a handful of session days left, it could be difficult to get them through. However, Ward said both bills have strong support in the house, so even if they do not pass this session, she expects results by early 2023.