A Breast Cancer Bill of Rights: Candidates, take note

30 years ago, I promised my dying sister Suzy that I would do everything in my power to end breast cancer forever.  The Breast Cancer Bill of Rights is the next step in extending that promise to all women. It’s a statement of principles, 10 tenets that we believe all women have a right to and that we promise to fight for. 

We believe this is a perfect time to focus our energies in this way.  This year’s health reform law included several patient protections that marked a significant step in the right direction — enhanced access to mammography, protection for people with pre-existing conditions, and so forth.  But the reality is, even after 2014, when the patient protections are fully phased in, there still will be significant gaps in access to breast health services and issues of quality of care.

That’s why we are putting the nation’s leaders on notice that as far as breast cancer survivors and advocates are concerned, health reform was just a first step and not the end of the road. 

For example, the first tenet of our Breast Cancer Bill of Rights is that all women should have access to breast screening tools that may save her life.  And now, thanks to the new health reform law, women age 40 and older who are enrolled in either Medicare or newly-issued health plans have access to an annual screening mammogram — with no additional cost to the patient.

Yet there is still much work to do.  The benefit isn’t guaranteed to women in health plans established prior to September 23.  For at least the next several years, underserved women will continue to rely on a patchwork of state-based safety net programs that are threatened by budget cuts due to the struggling economy.

And while mammography is currently the best screening tool available, it is far from perfect and not effective for some women, particularly those with dense breasts – so we will continue to press for the development of better technologies and for access to additional screening tools as recommended.

Every day between now and Election Day, 567 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Every one of those women is someone’s mother, daughter, sister and friend. We are watching, and we vote. 

The Breast Cancer Bill of Rights outlines our promise to the women we serve.  Among other things, we promise to fight for a woman’s right to:

• Access breast cancer screening tools that may save her life;
• Fight breast cancer without fear of bankruptcy;
• Own affordable, quality health insurance;
• Obtain timely diagnosis and treatment;
• Receive high quality care, no matter where she seeks medical services;

This is our vision.  If potential lawmakers want our continued support, they will have to consider the impact their policies will have on cancer patients and survivors, and prove that we’re all better off as a result of it.

For example, controlling health care costs means ensuring access to the most effective available treatments and technologies and supporting innovative research – not the opposite.  Developing advanced treatments and technologies and making these accessible to patients must be done at the same time as the health care system cuts costs and ties spending to patient outcomes.  Newer and better technologies are not only the key to saving lives – they are also the foundation of future cost-effectiveness.

It’s not acceptable when any woman is denied screening that may save her life, or has to worry about anything other than survival.  We promise to keep pushing until the gaps in health care are filled once and for all.  That’s our promise.  Now, for those who want to represent us, we want to know: What will you promise?

Nancy Brinker is the founder and CEO of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.

More in House

House passes breast cancer prevention bill

Read more »