Tuesday, February 9, 2010

Sacrificing Women First

The governor’s plan for solving California’s budget crisis is for low-income Californians to die. And, because of the governor’s cuts to Every Woman Counts, it's ladies first.

As previously explained on this blog, the governor’s first act of 2010 was to take mammograms away from 100,000 low-income women provided through the Every Woman Counts program. This was in direct violation of the Legislature’s direction this summer. We appropriated what the Department of Public Health (DPH) told us was anticipated to be sufficient funding for the year. We denied DPH’s proposal to reduce eligibility for the program because we did not want to cut women off from this life-saving screening.

Yesterday, the Assembly Budget Committee held a hearing on the governor’s cuts. Dr. Mark Horton, Director of the Department of Public Health, testified that the administration’s decision to reduce mammogram access through EWC was strictly a fiscal decision. But testimony from Dr. Jon Grief of the American Cancer Society showed that early breast cancer detection has an enormous financial benefit to our public health system and these cuts will lead to substantially higher state costs. He cited a U.C. San Francisco study, which found that cancer heath care costs increased from $21,320 for women diagnosed with in situ cancer, to $26,747 for localized cancer, $40,096 for regional cancer, and $52,288 for distant cancer. The majority of these increased costs would be paid for by MediCal.

The administration has offered numerous rationales and defenses for the governor’s cuts to EWC. We have been told that Proposition 99, which funds EWC, is experiencing declining revenues; but there is no evidence that Proposition 99 funds are insufficient to support the current program. In fact, the Legislative Analyst’s Office told us that the state had collected $285 million in 2009/10; the appropriation for EWC was roughly $47million. And, the administration further claims that the Legislature authorized these cuts, which is simply not true.

The governor’s budget proposals for FY 2010-2011 shift Proposition 99 funds away from providing mammograms to other programs usually paid for out of the General Fund. It is, therefore, clear that the governor wants to take Proposition 99 funds to solve the state’s budget crisis.

It appears from evidence produced at the hearing that the governor has taken money appropriated by the Legislature for Every Woman Counts and shifted it to pay for other state liabilities. In order to achieve that funding shift, he shut down enrollment for 6 months and limited eligibility. In doing so, he violated legislative authorization, ensured that low-income women will not get life-saving breast cancer detection, and guaranteed the state will incur more costs for treatment.

Dr. Grief posed the question: What is a life worth? That is the question of this state budget debate. And, it’s time to fight back! Women’s lives are at stake. Every one of us is in some way impacted by breast cancer. While we undoubtedly have a state budget crisis, these cuts create a moral crisis as well. We must pursue less deadly alternatives.