CLEVELAND — Women in Ohio who need advanced breast cancer screenings could soon have them covered, if House Bill 371 is passed by lawmakers.
Under the bipartisan bill, sponsored by Ohio House Reps. Jean Schmidt and Sedrick Denson, a more detailed letter would be sent to women with dense breast tissue and their increased risk for cancer, requiring commercial insurance plans and medicaid to cover the cost of breast cancer screenings while removing the age barrier.
"In Ohio some plans, it's 40 to 75 [years old]. Other plans, it's 50 to 65. Some as every year or some as every two years. We have no age barrier, so there's no fence around who can get a mammography," said Schmidt.
House Bill 371 would also extend mammography coverage to include advanced screening technology, like tomosynthesis, and mandate insurance cover the cost for supplemental screening for women who have dense breast tissue or elevated risk of breast cancer.
"We're going to get this passed so that when you need that next step, it doesn't...the cost of it isn't a barrier to you getting the best health that you can have for you, your family and Ohio," Schmidt said. "This isn't a partisan issue. This is an issue that is right for Ohio to keep our women healthy and strong."
The bill was inspired by Michele Young, from Cincinnati. She's an attorney, wife, sister and mother of five and with no family history of breast cancer.
"I went to a women's health service. I had mammograms. I was told I was low risk," Young said.
Then in 2018, she felt something in her breast. Young had a mammogram and it revealed a suspicious mass. The next step was an MRI. That's when doctors found a tumor. But this tumor was twice as large than they thought.
"And I said, "how did this happen?" Young recalled. "I thought I was taking care of myself. I was told because I have dense breast that this happens all the time." Young said doctors told her trying to find breast cancer in a dense breasts is like trying to find a snowflake in a snowstorm. She said if doctors in Ohio were using newer mammogram technology, like tomosynthesis, which produces a 3D image of the breast, as part of her regular screening process, her cancer could have been detected sooner.
"The science is there, the medicine is there to allow people to go forward and live, we're just not doing it," Young said.
She took her story to local leaders, and her close friend, Rep. Schmidt. Together the pair, and Rep. Denson, came up with HB 371.
"She took my hand and said, 'You're going to win and we're going to get better detection for breast cancer,'" recalled Rep. Schmidt. "And I promised her that I would."
The trio also reached out to Renee Mahafeey Harris, who works with the Center for Closing the Health Gap in Cincinnati, to help develop and testify this month for the legislation, focusing on racial disparities when it comes to breast cancer.
"While black women aren't representative of a majority of breast cancer cases, the mortality rates for black women are greater per 100,000 people to white women," said Harris. "There are some specific types of cancers, specifically triple-negative cancer that disproportionately impacts black women."
Harris said her organization is seeing is more incidents of people who don't have a family history of breast cancer. Her hope is to save as many lives as possible with House Bill 371.
"This bill will make it easier for someone to get an earlier detection that is ultimately going to have a greater likelihood to save their life," she said. "And so that's what makes this important."
House Bill 371 will undergo a testimony hearing on Thursday. Schmidt said so far she has not heard of anyone planning to speak against it. From there, the bill will head to the House floor for a vote possibly in the next few weeks - then on to the state Senate.