Bill aims to expand coverage of new breast cancer screening technology,
Austin resident Anne Hunt gets a mammogram every year, and she didn’t hesitate to pay extra for a more detailed 3D scan that can detect cancer in its earlier stages last year, though Texas insurers typically don’t cover the cost.
The $60 fee for the imaging — not covered by Hunt’s insurance — was “worth every penny,” she says. But that cost could put the technology out of reach for some Texas women, reducing their chances of early detection.
“Your quality of life is at risk,” Hunt said. “If you can catch it early and take care of it, then you don’t have to look in the rear-view mirror anymore.”
On Tuesday, Hunt and a group of medical experts rolled up to the Capitol in a bus to showcase the benefits of 3D mammography technology, as legislators consider ways to make the technology more accessible.
Authored by state Rep. Senfronia Thompson, D-Houston, House Bill 1036 would mandate Texas health insurance companies cover the costs of 3D mammograms under their health care plans. Currently, federal law mandates coverage of traditional 2D mammograms, but not all Texas plans cover the procedure, leaving many women to pay the $50 to $100 out of pocket.
“If 3D imaging had been available when I had mine, then they would have caught it sooner,” said Thompson, a breast cancer survivor herself. “If technology is available to save more women from receiving the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer — nobody wants to hear ‘you got cancer’ — it ought to be available.”
Dr. Stephen Rose, a radiologist in Austin and an expert in 3D mammograms, said the traditional technology only takes a stationary, 2D image from the top angle of a patient’s breasts. The newer technology allows doctors to see more detailed images and a greater contrast between higher and lower density masses.
With this advantage, doctors have been able to detect smaller cancers in earlier stages, increasing the number of detections by 54 percent and reducing the number of false diagnoses by 37 percent, according to Dr. Rose’s research, which has been featured in the American Journal of Roentgenology, and in Applied Radiology.
In 2010, Rose played a key role in seeking the Food and Drug Administration’s approval for the 3D mammograms by presenting one of his medical case studies of the first patient diagnosed with breast cancer using the technology. There, he pointed out how this specific patient, like many others, was given a false negative when using the traditional imaging.
“It’s just a better mammogram,” Rose said. “Whether you’re young or old, or if you have dense or do not have dense breast tissue — we improve our metrics in every category.”
States such as Pennsylvania, Illinois and New York have approved mandates similar to HB 1036, while Arkansas’ legislature is considering one later this week.
A bipartisan group of five legislators have signed on as co-authors of HB 1036, which is currently awaiting a hearing in the House Insurance Committee expected in the next few weeks.
“I want to extend every opportunity I possibly can to women to be screened, and if they do have cancer, then we’ll catch it in the very early stages,” Thompson said. “Just the peace of mind of knowing that if you have it, you’ve got access to good treatment is so important.”
House Bill 1036 would mandate Texas health insurance companies cover the costs of 3D mammograms under their health care plans. The technology was showcased on March 21 at the Capitol.