The Spokane Regional Health District wants to get the word out that it has money available for breast, cervical and colon cancer screenings.
Over the past year, district officials have seen a puzzling drop in the number of clients served by the program, raising concerns that low-income community members aren’t getting the screenings.
Early detection is key to successful treatment, said Donna Oliver, who manages the health district’s breast, cervical and colon health program.
“We’ve seen it save lives over and over again,” she said. “People say, ‘If it wasn’t for this program, I wouldn’t have gone to the doctor.’ ”
The district pays for mammograms, Pap smears and other diagnostic tests for the cancers. Most clients are women age 40 to 64, though colon screenings are also available for men. Individuals must meet income guidelines to qualify for assistance.
Over the past year, the Spokane Regional Health District has seen the number of clients in the program plummet from about 150 per month to 20 per month in the nine-county region it serves.
Some of the drop-off is probably the result of the Affordable Care Act, also known as Obamacare, Oliver said. Most insurance plans now are required to cover the initial screenings at no out-of-pocket cost. But the magnitude of the drop in people seeking services through the health district is still worrisome, she said.
“We’re not seeing what we think is the level of need out there,” Oliver said.
The newly insured can also use the health district’s program, which will pay for follow-up diagnostic tests after initial screenings for individuals who can’t afford their deductible, Oliver said. If a mammogram detects a lump, for instance, the program can cover the cost of an ultrasound and biopsy.
Providing assistance for people with high deductibles may be the biggest demand for program dollars in the future, said Claudia Bell, executive director of the Eastern Washington Affliate of the Susan G. Komen Foundation. The affiliate helps the health district fund the $210,000 annual program, which also receives state and federal dollars.
“People are buying the insurance they can afford,” Bell said. For a low-income family with basic coverage, a $5,000 deductible “might as well be $5 million,” she said.
Getting people in for routine screenings is frequently a challenge, said Kathleen Wilson, chief operating officer for Inland Imaging, which has seven locations in the Spokane area, and also provides mobile services to outlying areas.
Three years ago, Inland Imaging surveyed clients about why they put off getting their mammograms. The No. 1 reason cited by women was time.
“It wasn’t the money,” Wilson said. “The women who responded said they didn’t have time.”
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