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House Passes Medicaid Cancer Plan

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WASHINGTON (AP) — For Judy Lewis, getting the bad news that she had breast cancer didn't cost a thing. Getting the needed treatment, however, was another story.

The 60-year-old from Lake Ronkonkoma, N.Y., was among about 1 million low-income women who since 1990 have taken advantage of a law entitling them to free breast cancer screening and diagnosis from the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Like the 30,000 women under the program who have been diagnosed with cancer or precancerous conditions, however, she discovered that government help did not extend to paying for treatment.

``Once I was diagnosed I was on my own,'' Lewis said in a telephone interview from her home. Her husband was out of work because of a back injury when she took the test in 1998, her mother-in-law was afflicted with Alzheimer's disease and Lewis accrued medical bills of $22,000 just from three operations she underwent.

The plight of those in her situation could change with legislation passed by the House 421-1 Tuesday and sent to the Senate for consideration.

The bill would give states the option of providing Medicaid coverage to low-income women such as Lewis who are diagnosed with breast or cervical cancer through the CDC early detection program. The chief sponsor is Rep. Sue Myrick, R-N.C., who currently is under treatment for breast cancer.

Thousands of poorer women have incomes above the line qualifying them for Medicaid, the federal-state program for the poor, but who lack the money or insurance to get adequate treatment, said Rep. Rick Lazio, R-N.Y., a co-sponsor. They are ``forced to face a Hobson's choice between a flat line or a bread line.''

``I don't want us to look another woman in the eye and say, `Yes, you have cancer, but we can't treat you,'' said Rep. Tillie Fowler, R-Fla.

``It's cruel to diagnose these women with federal dollars and not give them treatment,'' said Fran Visco, president of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, which lobbied hard against a move to reduce money in the bill.

Under the legislation, the federal government would pay 75 percent of treatment expenses while the states would pay the other 25 percent. The cost to the federal government would be about $280 million over five years.

Budgets for 2001 proposed by both President Clinton and the GOP-led Congress provide money for the program.

The bill also requires the Health and Human Services Department and the CDC to develop educational materials regarding the sexually transmitted disease human papillomavirus (HPV) for health care providers and the public. The Food and Drug Administration is to develop a condom warning that HPV can cause cervical cancer, and condoms are ineffective protection against the disease.

Rep. Mark Sanford, R-S.C., a fiscal conservative, cast the one vote against the bill.

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EDITOR'S NOTE — The bill number is H.R. 4386.

On the Net: the National Breast Cancer Coalition: http://www.natlbcc.org
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