Local resident and longtime fundraiser for cancer research and treatment Nancy Partridge, left, and Tina Brown representing Arizona, are in Washington, DC this week as advocacy ambassadors for the Susan G. Komen Center for Public Policy. Courtesy photo
SPECIAL TO THE LOS ALAMOS REPORTER
The Susan G Komen Center for Public Policy held its annual Advocacy Summit in Washington DC June 12-14. This was the first in-person Advocacy Summit since the pandemic; the 2022 Summit was held on Zoom and the 2021 Summit was held by phone call.
Local resident Nancy Partridge was among 200 volunteer Advocacy Ambassadors who spent the first part of this week visiting with members of the 118th Congress, advocating for breast cancer legislation with various legislative offices. Partridge, the only Advocacy Ambassador representing New Mexico, was teamed up with Tina Brown, the only Advocacy Ambassador representing Arizona. Other states, such as California and Texas, have several teams of Advocates who are dispersed to offices across the hill.
The Advocacy Summit at the Watergate Hotel included a day of meetings about Komen’s public policy priorities, a day of meetings with legislative offices, and a day of meetings on barriers to care, patient navigation training, and using big data for scientific studies.
On the hill, the Advocacy Ambassadors focused on educating legislators about three pieces of key legislation and requesting the legislators co-sponsor the bills. Partridge and Brown met with representatives from New Mexico Senators Ben Ray Lujan and Martin Heinrich, Arizona Senators Krysten Sinema and Mark Kelly, New Mexico Congresswoman Teresa Leger Fernandez (D-3), Arizona Congresswoman Debbie Lesko (R-08), and Arizona Congressman Elijah Crane (R-02).
“While we were on the Hill, we also saw Sen. Ted Cruz (R-TX) and Congressman George Santos (R-NY), and watched an assault rifle ban protest. All day long, the arrest of former president Donald Trump was on the televisions in every single senatorial and congressional office we visited,” Partridge said.
Partridge and Brown illustrated the need for legislation with personal stories and asked elected officials to co-sponsor the Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act, the Screens Act, and the Access to Breast Cancer Diagnostics act.
The MBC Access to Care Act (H.R. 549/S.663) addresses a waiting period that was created for cost savings for Medicare in 1972. When a woman is diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (cancer which has spread to the lymph nodes or other organs), she is required to wait five months for Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI) and another 24 months for coverage under Medicare. Metastatic breast cancer has a 5-year survival rate of 31%.
“Due to symptoms of the illness, women with metastatic breast cancer are usually unable to work. Without income and without a way to pay for treatment, most metastatic breast cancer patients pass away while waiting the combined 29-months for coverage,” Partridge explained. The MBC Access to Care Act would eliminate those waiting periods.
Brown, a licensed Community Health Worker who has organized more than 400 breast cancer awareness events in Arizona that have resulted in more than 15,000 uninsured and underinsured women getting mammograms, explained the SCREENS for Cancer Act (H.R. 3916/S.1840) to the legislative offices. SCREENS reauthorizes a critical program – the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) – that provides access to breast cancer screening and diagnostic services for low-income, uninsured or underinsured people in all 50 states, the District of Columbia, two U.S. territories, five U.S.-affiliated Pacific Islands and 13 tribes or tribal organizations. The NBCCEDP, at its currently authorized level, serves approximately 15% of women who are eligible for the program. Under the Screens Act, the NBCCEDP could potentially reach up to 30% of eligible women as well as add advocates and patient navigators. The legislation is led by Senators Tammy Baldwin (WI) and Susan Collins (ME) and Representatives Joseph Morelle (NY-25) and Brian Fitzpatrick (PA-01).
The Access to Breast Cancer Diagnosis (H.R. 3851/ S.tbd) act would require federally regulated insurance (such as employer-provided insurance) to cover the cost of the diagnostic exams with no cost-sharing.
“Currently women have screening mammograms without insurance co-pays or other cost sharing through the Affordable Care Act (ACA). Approximately 13% of women are called back for follow-up diagnostic exams – whether due to an anomaly on the screening mammogram, because of the woman’s family history with breast cancer, or because the woman is a breast cancer survivor. Insurance is not required to cover the cost of the diagnostic follow up tests, which can cost several hundred or thousand dollars,” Partridge said.
A Komen-commissioned study found the costs to patients range from $234 for a diagnostic mammogram to more than $1,021 for a breast MRI. The ABCD act would remove the financial barrier to obtaining diagnostic tests that determine whether a woman has breast cancer.
New Mexico enacted a state law similar to the ABCD act in the 2023 session; H.B. 27 requires state regulated insurance, such as private insurance purchased on the New Mexico Health Exchange, to cover the cost of medically necessary diagnostic exams with no cost-sharing. The Breast Exam Health Coverage bill was carried at the request of her constituents by Rep. Christine Chandler (D-Los Alamos). H.B. 27 passed both the NM House and Senate unanimously and was signed by Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham in March.
To date, 15 states have passed legislation addressing access to diagnostic exams, including New York, Colorado, Illinois, Louisiana, Arkansas, Texas, Connecticut, Georgia, Oklahoma, Maryland, Minnesota, Montana, New Mexico, Tennessee, and Washington. Legislation in Nevada and Missouri passed the legislature but is pending the Governor’s signature.