October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It is an opportunity for us to acknowledge the wives, mothers, sisters and daughters among us who have fought and continue to fight against this terrible disease. Since this awareness program began in 1985, breast cancer exam rates have more than doubled for women over the age of 50 and we have seen a decline in death rates.
While this news in encouraging, there are still women who do not take advantage of early detection at all and others who do not get mammograms at regular intervals. Early detection is key to fighting this disease, which is why a regular mammogram, or breast cancer screening, is the single best preventive measure to survive this disease. Medical experts say the key to breast cancer screenings is that they be done routinely -- once is not enough. That's why awareness, education and regular screenings are critical in the fight against breast cancer.
In 1998, Congress passed the Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (WHCRA), which mandated that private insurers and group health plans provide coverage for all stages of breast surgery and reconstruction for women undergoing medically-necessary breast mastectomies, or removal.
A medically-necessary breast mastectomy is a painful, invasive and emotionally-deliberating procedure that affects a woman for the rest of her life. Following the surgery, many women need custom fabricated breast prostheses to return to as normal a life as possible. However, despite the WHCRA law, Medicare does not reimburse for this important step on the road to recovery.
Many private insurers, the VA, and some Medicare Advantage plans do provide coverage for custom breast prostheses. This coverage should be extended under Medicare to give patients more options during post-mastectomy care.
I have introduced legislation to correct this unintended and inequitable gap in Medicare coverage. My bill, H.R. 2233, the Breast Cancer Patient Equity Act of 2011 would expressly provide coverage under Medicare for custom fabricated breast prostheses, addressing a significant inequity currently faced by patients post-mastectomy for breast cancer.
The Breast Cancer Patient Equity Act will help fix this inequity for women in Medicare, help breast cancer survivors overcome the effects of this terrible disease and offer a lower-cost alternative to complete reconstructive surgery.
As a son, husband, father and as your Congressman, I am continuing the fight against breast cancer. As a country, we must work together to be there for those fighting this disease and to help raise awareness, educate and support research until the one day when I know we will find a cure.