Today the state budget will be debated on the floor of Ohio Senate. The budget has already been adjusted several times as policy makers juggle funding priorities around public schools. Although many programs have suffered cuts, one of the latest adds to funding plan is money for breast and cervical cancer care.
Now, the women suffering from these types of cancer wait for word that the budget proposal has passed, making their struggle, at least financially, a little easier. 90.3's Tarice Sims reports.
Tarice Sims- Liz Schulte spends most of her days raising awareness and money for breast cancer research. She's been an advocate for about a year and a survivor of breast cancer even longer. All this month Schulte and other members of the Northern Ohio Breast Cancer Coalition have lobbied state and federal legislators for funds to help pay for cancer treatment. She says, although their efforts have been successful so far it's hard sometimes just to get people to care.
Liz Schulte- They feel like, well, there's a system in place now one representative talked to me about it and his feeling was right now if a woman was diagnosed with breast cancer and she doesn't have health insurance she'll go to the hospital. The hospital will treat her, they will send her the bill then if she can't pay the bill then she just declares bankruptcy and the hospital is able to write off the bill in some fashion and what's wrong with the system.
TS- Schulte sees a lot wrong with the current system especially when it comes to uninsured women. Medicaid covers health care costs for low income uninsured Ohioans. But the program is so restrictive that women have to make financial sacrifices in order to qualify. Schulte says that in some cases that means quitting their jobs. If patients don't prove they live at poverty level, then they cannot get the money to pay for chemotherapy treatments that can cost between $2,000-$3,000.
LS- If the program is implemented that we're hoping for women up to 200% of the poverty level would qualify for coverage. And the only, Medicaid would only cover them and it would cover their treatment for the duration of breast cancer treatment.
TS- The state government is willing to spend $2.7 million over the next 2 years for breast and cervical cancer services. This money for Medicaid is specifically for uninsured women between the ages of 40 and 65 who will be screened through the Ohio Department of Health. But now, Medicaid officials are more concerned with how they are going to pay for the program. Bill Hayes is Assistant Director of Medicaid in Ohio.
Bill Hayes- The question on the table on the funding side is if there is an appropriate amount of money to cover the anticipated cost for the services to the women who are covered by this expansion.
TS- Initially the expansion proposal was left out of Governor Bob Taft's budget proposal, but a flurry of phone calls and letters got the funding back on the current budget plan. But the budget process is far from over. Women waiting to see if other priorities may jeopardize the funding. The legislator is under pressure from the Ohio Supreme Court to come up with a constitutional school funding plan before June 15th. State Senator Doug White is head of the finance committee.
Doug White- You see the Supreme Court doesn't care about that dying cancer patient. An their focus as a court, as individual justices they certainly do in thier compassion. I'm not saying they as individuals are not compassionate. But when any court of law of any "tryer" of facts will accept only those facts that pertain to the subject in front of them, and the subject in front of them is school funding.
TS- White and other Republican senators are setting an additional $300 million in school facilities bonds, taking money away from other areas. State Senator Eric Fingerhut is a ranking democrat on the finance committee. He fought to include funding for breast and cervical cancer in the budget plan, but says he doesn't support the budget as it stands and will likely vote against it.
Eric Fingerhut- This is one of the oldest political tricks in the book in the legislature, is to combine some positive programs and initiatives with some detrimental programs and initiatives to present them as one up or down vote, and to say to a legislator, that if you don't vote to hurt college students and senior citizens and the environment and libraries then you are voting not to fund breast cancer research. This is a classic political trick what we ought to do is fund breast cancer research we also ought to fund libraries and higher education and aging programs and we ought to cut some of the waste that is padded throughout state government.
TS- Despite the opposition of Democrats in the Senate, the majority vote will probably pass the budget today. But even though money for breast and cervical cancer services made it into the budget proposal, funds won't be available until 2002. In the meantime the Northern Ohio Breast Cancer Coalition has kicked off a campaign for 1 million signatures to take to Washington gain support from the Bush administration. In Cleveland, Tarice Sims, 90.3 WCPN.