As events are held across the nation to mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month, thousands of Oklahoma women are taking advantage of legislation giving them access to life-saving breast and cervical cancer treatment. That’s according to State Sen. Debbe Leftwich, author of a 2004 measure to provide funding for uninsured and underinsured women in need of treatment. As a result, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program went into effect on January 1, 2005.
“As of the end of September, 2,653 Oklahoma women have had breast and cervical cancer treatment because of this program. There’s no doubt in my mind that we’ve saved lives,” Leftwich said.
Leftwich, D-Oklahoma City, and former Rep. Danny Hilliard, D-Sulphur, were co-authors of HB 2552. The measure, named for Rep. Hilliard’s mother, Belle Maxine Hilliard, who died from breast cancer, appropriated $2.5 million to a revolving fund enabling the state to capture nearly $10 million in federal matching funds. Leftwich is chair of the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Advisory Committee, which oversees the use of those funds.
“Oklahoma ranks fourteenth in the nation in the number of annual cancer related deaths, yet until the passage of HB 2552, we were the only state not taking advantage of the federal matching fund program for breast and cervical cancer treatment. Clearly, it was something we needed to do.”
Leftwich said she will continue to pursue legislation to improve the health of Oklahomans through better awareness and access to cancer treatment. This past year she became the co-chair of both the Women’s Legislative Caucus and the state’s first Cancer Caucus. Leftwich said she looked forward to utilizing those organizations to help bring the issue of cancer to the forefront.
“Early detection is still our best weapon. I’ve worked to get additional funding for breast and cervical cancer screening, but there’s more to be done,” Leftwich said. “Cancer has impacted nearly every family in this state, including my own. The good news is we have an opportunity to enact public policy that will save even more lives.”
In order to be eligible for the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program, women must be screened for breast or cervical cancer under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program and found to be in need of treatment. The program is available to women between the ages of 19 and 65 who have no creditable health insurance coverage, or other available insurance providing breast or cervical cancer services, including Medicaid. There also income limits for the screening program.