State assists breast cancer

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, May 17, 2000

patients with recovery costs


Staff Writer

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The trauma of undergoing a mastectomy is hard enough without having to worry about paying for reconstructive surgery.

Now, that worry has been taken away by Alabama legislators.

During the Legislative Session that ended at midnight Monday, a bill forcing Medicaid to pay for reconstructive surgery was passed. Now, it’s up to Gov. Don Siegelman to sign it into law.

Donna Schubert is one woman who is glad to see government take a role in helping women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.

In April 1998, Schubert found out she was one of hundreds of Alabama who was going to have to face the fear of having a mastectomy.

She was one of the lucky ones.

Schubert’s insurance provided coverage for reconstructive surgery, which she had in June 1999.

But, she realized not everyone had the right to choose whether or not to have the surgery.

"Breast reconstruction is an option," Schubert said. "What this bill does is it gives people the choice and that’s what’s so important."

Schubert said passage of the bill could have an impact on the treatment women receive because they will know they can have the reconstructive surgery.

"There are people who might not have had the treatment," Schubert said of having a breast removed, which is something that traumatizes many women.

"I think this bill’s passage is a very important reminder that state government can protect cancer patients," Schubert said. "State government can make a difference."

And, the bill known in circles as "Vanessa’s Law" will affect the lives of about 180 Alabama women like Vanessa Elliot.

The Fayette woman was denied reconstructive surgery by Medicaid after having a double mastectomy in November.

In April, Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Pelham, and Lt. Gov. Steve Windom held a press conference with Elliot.

McClurkin said she was surprised to know that Alabama’s Medicaid agency didn’t pay for breast reconstructive surgery. Medicare, private insurance companies and Medicaid agencies in 35 other states did not restrict that procedure, so legislators went to work to change things in Alabama.

Medicaid spokesman Mary Finch said, until now, the agency has paid for all phases of cancer surgery and treatments except breast reconstruction, which was considered "cosmetic" surgery.

By late summer, the Medicaid should be ready to provide payment of breast reconstructive surgery.

Legislative budget analysts predict the law could cost taxpayers an extra $450,000 each year.

"The state can make a difference, if they will," Schubert said, adding, the next thing legislators ought to do is pass legislation that will pay for bone marrow transplants.