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Thursday October 5, 2000

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Senate approves breast cancer bill

By The Associated Press

WASHINGTON - Uninsured women who rely on the government for breast or cervical cancer screening could get federally funded treatment under a bill approved yesterday by the Senate.

The Breast and Cervical Treatment Act, passed by a voice vote, gives states the option of providing Medicaid reimbursement for the treatments.

The bill returns to House, which passed its version in May. Supporters hope for quick approval; President Clinton has indicated he would sign it.

The treatment would be tied to a Centers for Disease Control program, approved in 1990, that has enabled nearly 800,000 women without health insurance to be screen for breast or cervical cancer. The federal government provides $3 for every $1 in state money for screening.

Lawmakers said it did not sense for poor women to find out that they have cancer but cannot afford the treatment.

"In my view, diagnosing women with cancer but failing to treat them is cruel and tantamount to doing nothing at all," said Sen. Lincoln Chafee, R-R.I.

The women notified through the CDC program would qualify immediately to have all their treat costs covered, officials said. The federal government and the states would share the cost, according to the bill.

"Screening alone - and the life and death knowledge about one's health that comes as a result - cannot save a woman's life," said Sen. Olympia Snowe, R-Maine. "This legislation gives these women and all who have been screened through this program a fighting chance against this disease."

The treatment would only be available to women who qualified for the CDC screening program. The women earn too much to be eligible for Medicaid but not enough to afford insurance, or work in jobs that do not provide health insurance, senators said.

The major difference between the House and the Senate bills is the amount of the federal match states would get.

The cost is estimated at about $250 million over five years. Once passed by Congress and signed by the president, each state legislature must approve the bill.