Monday, December 21, 2009

Does Every Woman Count in California?

Happy Holidays from Governor Schwarzenegger! This month, his administration announced that the 8th largest economy in the world would start the New Year by risking the lives of thousands of low-income women by terminating them from breast cancer screening provided by the Every Woman Counts program.

The Assembly responded immediately, protesting these reductions with a press conference attended by numerous breast cancer survivors and the Susan G. Komen Foundation for the Cure. In addition, 21 of California’s Congressional representatives signed a bipartisan letter to Gov. Schwarzenegger, pleading with him to continue the program.

Breast cancer is the most pervasive and deadly of all cancers affecting women. In California alone, 21,700 women will have been diagnosed with breast cancer this year and more than 4,000 will have lost their battle with the disease. With such destructive power, all of our lives are touched by this disease. My own mother-in-law died from it.

Starting January 1, the Administration will restrict access to a program that provides free mammograms to low income women. Every Woman Counts is jointly run by the State Department of Public Health and the Federal Center for Disease Control and Prevention’s National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. It provides clinical breast exams, mammograms, pelvic exams and Pap tests to California’s women over the age of 40. More than 1.2 million California women are eligible for the program.

The governor’s new guidelines exclude women between the ages of 40 and 49 for mammograms and the enrollment of new women into the program altogether for the remainder of this fiscal year. When announced on December 2, no explanation was given about why this course of action was necessary or preferred over alternatives.

Breast cancer survival rates are very high when detected early. Unfortunately, women with low incomes who are uninsured or underinsured are more likely to be unable to afford potentially life-saving cancer screenings, which leads to later diagnoses, larger tumors and lower survival rates. That is why programs like Every Woman Counts are so important.

California faces unprecedented budget challenges. We’ve faced $60 billion in budget shortfalls and we have another $20 billion more to resolve next year. But cutting this program would have NO general fund savings because it is funded from Proposition 99 tobacco tax revenues.

This sorry episode shows a continuing failure of leadership by our governor. Instead of fighting to protect this basic service that sustains life, the governor’s message to the women of California is, “Sorry, you’re on your own.” He’s throwing women off the lifeboat first in 2010. Adding insult to injury, the governor and his administration are running from ownership of this crisis they created. See separate blog post.