OKLAHOMA CITY - Although most doctors recommend yearly mammograms for women starting at age 40, Medicaid and many private insurance companies in Oklahoma don't offer it until age 50. But that will soon be changing thanks to the passage and final approval of Senate Bill 711, authored by Senator Larry Dickerson, D-Poteau and Representative Jari Askins, D-Duncan.
"Every other state in the nation begins offering yearly mammogram screenings for Medicaid patients beginning at age 40, but in Oklahoma, a woman must be at least 50 years old. Considering how critical early detection is in fighting breast cancer, this was something we really needed to address," said Senator Dickerson.
Every year in Oklahoma, more than 2000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer. Thirty percent of those women will die from the disease, largely because it was discovered too late to successfully treat. But for those women who discover the disease in the early stages, ninety-seven percent will survive. Mammograms are a critical screening tool for discovering breast cancer in the early stages.
Under SB 711, private insurance companies will be required to provide coverage for mammogram screenings once a year beginning at age 40, and once every five years for those women who are between 35 and 40. In addition, the legislature identified additional funding so that Medicaid patients would also be covered for mammograms under the same age guidelines.
Representative Askins said other changes under SB 711 would encourage even more women to take advantage of yearly mammogram screenings.
"Currently, many women who qualify for mammograms coverage must schedule it for the same day as other yearly exams. That stipulation discourages some women from getting mammograms, so we've removed that requirement," said Askins.
In addition, women who don't have private insurance and don't qualify for Medicare or Medicaid may still be eligible for the state's "Take Charge" program. Available through county health departments, the program offers screening for both breast and cervical cancer for low-income Oklahomans.
"Although we've made a lot of medical advances, as of yet we still have no way of predicting exactly who will get this kind of cancer, and no way of preventing it. A person's best chance is through early detection and treatment. Hopefully this legislation along with other existing programs will help make sure more Oklahomans take advantage of these potentially life-saving screenings," said Senator Dickerson.
The new legislation takes effect on July 1 of this year.