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Celebrating Progress in the Fight Against Breast Cancer

By Kathleen Sebelius

Glamour Magazine
October 26, 2012

When I was 11, I watched my aunt die of breast cancer.  She was 33 and left behind five children. Altogether, one in eight women will get breast cancer diagnosis in her lifetime, which means almost all women have a story like that one.  If it's not us who gets the diagnosis, it's an aunt, a mother, a daughter, a sister, a co-worker, a best friend.

One thing that's changed sine I was growing up is that breast cancer is something you can talk about When I was young, it wasn't considered a topic of polite conversation.  It was a disease many women had to face on their own.  Today, we have much stronger support systems in place.

Another thing that's changed is that we have much better tools for detecting and treating the disease. 

That's one of the reasons I believe the Affordable Care Act is so important.  It makes sure women can get the proven care they need to have the best chance of beating breast cancer.

That starts with making screenings more affordable.  Thanks to the law, women in Medicare and new health plans can now get a mammogram without paying any copay or deductible.  That means tens of millions of women can walk into their doctor's office and get screened without paying a dollar out of their pocket.

The law also makes it easier for women with breast cancer to get the treatments they need.  In the past insurance companies had all sorts of tricks for getting out of paying for breast cancer care.  They could simply refuse to cover you.  Or they could put a lifetime limit on the amount of care your plan would pay for -- Limits that women with breast cancer reached all too quickly.

In the worst cases, they could cancel your coverage altogether, just by finding an unintentional error in your paperwork.  One insurance company even had a computer program designed to search the files of women with breast cancer looking for mistakes it could use to kick them off their plans.

Because of the law, women with breast cancer now have some fundamental protections.  Insurers can no longer put lifetime limits on your coverage.  They can't cancel your insurance based on a paperwork mistake.  And soon they'll be prohibited from denying coverage to people with pre-existing conditions, including women who have breast cancer or are breast cancer survivors.  And, women who are insured will no long be bankrupted by the cost their care: insures are required to limit annual out-of-pocket costs. 

We've got a long way to go. More research is needed to better understand how breast cancer works and how to better target care, one reason why President Obama has fought to protect investments in new cures and treatments.

But thanks to the health care law, women have a better shot at beating breast cancer than ever before.  And that's progress worth celebrating.