California's plan to curb mammograms for lower income women sparks protests

The Sacramento BeeDecember 16, 2009 

Many of California's lowest-income women in their 40s no longer will be eligible for free breast cancer screenings by the state beginning New Year's Day.

The decision by state health officials has stirred a hornet's nest of opposition from lawmakers and others who argue that early detection saves lives.

A letter signed by 21 members of California's congressional delegation expressed deep concern and urged rescission of the policy affecting tens of thousands of women.

"It is penny-unwise and pound foolish," says the letter, which was released at a state Capitol news conference Tuesday.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, characterized the changes as a "death sentence" for some of the state's most vulnerable women.

"Shame on the Department of Public Health," Nava said.

Specifically, state health officials have ordered that the Every Woman Counts program stop providing breast cancer screenings for women in their 40s beginning New Year's Day.

The program, which serves Medi-Cal patients and women of the working poor, will continue to provide breast screenings for women 50 and older – but no new participants will be enrolled between Jan. 1 and June 30.

The changes come about a month after a federal government task force sparked controversy by finding that women in their 40s do not need routine mammograms if they have no health or family history or other risk factors.

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