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Op-Ed: Free Treatment for Breast Cancer Patients Who Are Uninsured

AMBLER, Pa., Oct. 4 /PRNewswire-USNewswire/ -- The following is an op-ed by Pat Halpin-Murphy, President and Founder of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition:

As if it isn't bad enough to be diagnosed with breast cancer -- in Gina C.'s case, twice -- imagine being diagnosed with an aggressive form of breast cancer with no medical insurance to cover costly medical treatment.

That's precisely what happened to Gina, a former corporate executive who is in remission today, thanks to the free treatment she received through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Program in Pennsylvania.

BCCPT, which provides free treatment to uninsured Pennsylvania women, is just one of the many programs that have been won by cancer survivors, their families and a community of caring individuals and groups trying to end the breast cancer epidemic through education, outreach and advocacy.

As we mark Breast Cancer Awareness Month this October, it's a good time to remind women of the large group of courageous women and men who are committed to finding a cure and providing treatment for those in need.

Gina is among those working to make sure that other women won't slip between the cracks of care and medical coverage, as she nearly did herself.

In 1998, while she was caring for her husband who was terminally ill with non-Hodgkin's Lymphoma, she was diagnosed with breast cancer. As a corporate vice president, her insurance was excellent and covered both their care. After her husband's death and several years of living cancer free, Gina opened a women's health club, which was doing wonderfully until her breast cancer returned and spread.

Due to treatment, Gina's business closed after she underwent a double mastectomy, reconstructive surgery and many months of chemotherapy. She held onto her insurance for a year, but her insurance company refused to renew her policy.

At that point, she had two choices. She could commit insurance fraud to obtain insurance, or she could run up medical bills that she knew she would never pay.

No one at her insurance company or at her hospital told her she was eligible for the free prevention and treatment program, fought for by the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition and sponsored by the Pennsylvania Department of Health's Healthy Woman Program.

With three weeks of medical coverage left, Gina was in despair. She had already sold the home she and her husband had built and moved into a South Philadelphia row home. Her bank accounts were nearly exhausted and even if she cashed out her retirement account, it would not have covered her $10,000 per month chemo bill for long.

She learned about the Breast and Cervical Cancer Program when her desperation led her to make tearful calls to the Pennsylvania Health Law Project and the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition.

How many other women, she often wonders, learn of the program's free cancer treatment after it is too late?

Advocacy has changed the battleground for breast cancer patients in Pennsylvania. Groups like ours -- of which there are many -- have given breast cancer patients a voice that has resulted in:

-- Mandatory insurance coverage for breast reconstruction

-- Free mammograms for uninsured and underinsured women starting at age


-- A state income tax check-off that has raised $2 million for breast

cancer research

-- 67 Women - 67 Counties: Facing Breast Cancer in Pennsylvania: a

traveling exhibition that celebrates the life, courage, hope and

dignity of women and families who have battled breast cancer

-- Friends Like Me, our survivor support program

-- Conferences, newsletters and other support and education efforts

-- Pink ribbon license plates that spread cancer awareness

-- Paint Pennsylvania Pink, a web-based campaign that allows donors to

use their contributions to paint PA pink on the pink map at

Ultimately, the only way we will win the battle against breast cancer is to continue our education, outreach and advocacy for better insurance coverage, better medical treatment, more patient support and finally a cure. This is a battle no one should fight alone.

Women have many places to turn and friends who are willing to help. I urge them to contact us at the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition at 1-800-377-8828 or and the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Program at 1-800-215-7494 to learn more or to join the fight. We can never have too many people waging war against breast cancer.

Pat Halpin-Murphy is President and Founder of the Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition. She is also a long-time breast cancer survivor.

Contact: Heather Hibshman

PA Breast Cancer Coalition Executive Director

717-738-9567 x 102

SOURCE Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition
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