Tuesday, March 5, 2002 at 3:37 PM
Recently members of the Northern Ohio Breast Cancer Coalition, or NOBCC, went to Washington D.C. to learn how to become better lobbyists. Last year the cause lost nearly $200 million to the Defense Budget. At the time the members couldn't argue - now they say it's crucial to get the money back. Already this year the American Cancer Society is predicting more than 200,000 women will be diagnosed - and with unemployment on the rise many of those women will be uninsured. Here in Ohio a new program is striving to meet the needs of women who are need of medical services - but some say the program needs to be expanded. And the voices of the cause have grown and become more diverse. More men are joining the efforts to get legislation to help those afflicted, not because they know survivors but because in some cases they are the survivors. 90.3 WCPN's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims: 10 years ago, 71-year-old Elyria native John Vanco got some surprising news.
John Vanco: I was getting my annual physical and the doctor was checking me, and he found out a lump was under in my breast and suggested I go to a specialist.
TS: The specialist found that the lump was cancerous. Soon after Vanco had a mastectomy. Since then he has become an advocate for men and women with the disease. Even though breast cancer affects under 1,500 men a year nationally, one in eight women are expected to get the disease in their lifetime. Currently there is help - for women.
In 1994, Ohio enacted a breast and cervical cancer program which is a federally funded screening and diagnosis program. The government mandates the State Health department is restricted to use screening funds for treatment. Last year legislators passed the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program. Sukey Barnum is with the Ohio Department of Job and Family Services which works with the health department on this program.
Sukey Barnum: The new coverage under the treatment act of 2000 it's actually a separate program. It's a treatment component, it's a federal option under the Medicaid program, it treats the screening and diagnosis program as a front door but it's not really an expansion of that. It's trying to solve the problem that existed with just the screening and diagnosis that you would have someone diagnosed and you would still have trouble difficulties finding treatment for them.
TS: Barnum says the new program will make the process easier. Also, Ohio Medicaid budgeted nearly $6 million for the program of which $1.6 million comes from the state, but the new easier process won't be in operation until the summer. Liz Schulte is breast cancer survivor and is now President of the Northern Ohio Breast Cancer Coalition. She spends many days shuttling uninsured, low-income women to doctor's appointments because they can't afford transportation. Schulte says getting the treatment program enacted was a good first step but it's not enough.
Liz Schulte: The way the state is wanting to look at it right now is they only want to cover that woman's Medicaid expenses until she completes her active treatment. That would take all of these women who have no health insurance and are working it would remove their access to follow-up care.
TS: Schulte adds aftercare treatment isn't the only way the program needs to be expanded. Men who are living with the disease also want to be included in all legislation. John Vanco says when he was diagnosed there was limited information about male breast cancer. He says many men don't even know how know examine themselves for the disease.
JV: I read all this literature and you probably read all this literature too. It has women should do this and women should do that. I feel that the word man should be included in all literature, local state federal what have you because we have the same problems also.
TS: Vanco says he wants to become a lobbyist to give men with breast cancer a voice. And although Vanco has support some medical professionals are not optimistic inclusion is in the near future. Dr. Katherine Lee is a cancer breast specialist at the Cleveland Clinic. Dr. Lee treats both genders and says she knows how embarrassing and uncomfortable it can be for men. She says government officials pay attention to the numbers when it comes to legislation.
Katherine Lee: They always talk about screening should be cost effective and it should actually diagnoses a disease that is prevalent in the community. And although breast cancer is prevalent in the male population it tends not to be as prevalent it, it may not be something that legislation or the government may think of as a cost effective test because of that reason.
TS: Dr. Lee says right now the Cleveland Clinic does not screen men for the disease for the same reason - roughly 50 were diagnosed in Ohio last year. Still Vanco says it's worth the effort, and he plans to do join the women in Washington next month to lobby members of Congress for educational services, and funding for research. Last year the cause lost nearly $200 million because the money was needed for the United States Defense Budget. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN News.