Senator Jon Tester secured another victory for Montana women this week -- this time making it easier for military service members, retirees, and their families to receive life-saving breast cancer screenings.
The U.S. Defense Department recently announced that TRICARE, the military's health insurer, will once again cover a breast cancer test known as "BRCA." The simple blood test uses DNA analysis to identify changes to genes that increase the likelihood of cancer. Sixty percent of patients who test positive get breast cancer. They also have a significantly higher risk for ovarian cancer.
TRICARE health benefits support active-duty troops, retirees, and their families. But after the Defense Department announced in January that TRICARE would no longer provide coverage for the critical test, Tester called on the department to reconsider.
"This proactive test would save lives," Tester wrote Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson. "I hope you reconsider your previous decision and recognize that coverage of this critical testing is the smart and right thing to do."
In response to Tester's letter, the Defense Department decided that it should cover the test.
"We need common sense to prevail, especially when it comes to life-saving health care," Tester said. "This safe test will make a big difference in women's lives and I will keep fighting to make sure that red tape doesn't prevent our troops and their families from receiving the quality health care they earned."
"This test has long been standard care for women across the country," said Billings oncologist, Dr. Patrick Cobb. "When Senator Tester found out that members of the military and their families did not have the same access to care, he fought for this change and got it done. As a former military officer myself, I appreciate Senator Tester working to get service members and their families the same state-of-the-art care that other women around the country receive."
A Montana service member and his wife, Heather Jefferson, first brought the issue to Tester's attention this spring. Heather, a breast cancer survivor, was denied test coverage.
The Defense Department also announced that due to Tester's efforts, it will now cover Oncotype DX, a test that helps doctors tailor treatment options and care plans without putting the patients' health at risk.
Tester, a member of the bipartisan Senate Cancer Coalition, recently backed a bipartisan bill that establishes a 10-person commission to examine new strategies to defeat breast cancer by 2020.