High-Risk Women to Get No-Cost Breast Cancer Screenings

May 2, 2023 by Dan McCue
High-Risk Women to Get No-Cost Breast Cancer Screenings

HARRISBURG, Pa. — Pennsylvania Gov. Josh Shapiro made a little history on Monday, not only signing his first bill into law, but also signing a first-of-its-kind in the nation bill eliminating all costs for preventative breast cancer screenings for women at high risk for the disease.

Senate Bill 8, which is now called Act 1 of 2023, goes into effect in 2025. It requires insurers to fully cover the cost of breast MRIs and ultrasound for women with high-risk conditions or a genetic predisposition for the disease.

The law, which amends the state’s Insurance Company Law, also requires insurers to cover the cost of genetic testing and counseling for anyone at a high risk of the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations.

These mutations are also known to predispose individuals to breast, ovarian and prostate cancer. 

“I am proud that the first bill I have signed as governor is a bill that passed both chambers unanimously — with Democrats and Republicans coming together to improve access to critically important health care and save countless lives in Pennsylvania,” Shapiro said. 

“This bill is the first of its kind in our country, requiring insurance companies to cover the costs of preventive cancer screenings for women at high risk of breast cancer,” he continued.

“This historic legislation is going to help women fight breast cancer and live healthier lives — and it would not have been possible without the courage, tenacity, and bipartisan cooperation of Senate President Pro Tempore Kim Ward [a Republican] and state House Speaker Joanna McClinton, [a Democrat],” Shapiro said.

“I believe government can and should be a productive force for good — and this is a real example of the big things we can accomplish in the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania when we work together,” the governor added.

Genetic testing for hereditary cancers is an invaluable tool that often leads to early cancer detection or someone never developing cancer.

In a letter to their colleagues last December, the bill’s sponsors, Ward, and state Sens. Devlin Robinson and Tracy Pennycuick, both Republicans, explained that the genetic testing they were hoping to foster, “provides the opportunity for earlier screenings and preventive treatments and procedures.” 

“In addition to early detection for an individual, genetic testing also provides vital information for family members of a person who’s been diagnosed with cancer who could potentially inherit the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation because there is a 50% chance of passing along the gene mutation,” they continued.

The legislation specifically requires insurers to cover all costs associated with genetic counseling and genetic testing for the BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutation if a person is diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer or has a family history of breast or ovarian cancer.

“A diagnosis of certain cancers such as breast and ovarian cancer, as well as a family history of these cancers, are strong indicators that an individual may have a gene mutation associated with a hereditary cancer syndrome,” they said.

The legislation also requires insurers to cover all costs associated with a supplemental breast screening by MRI or ultrasound for women at increased risk of breast cancer pursuant to Pennsylvania Act 52 of 2020, which includes women with known BRCA1 and BRCA2 gene mutations. 

“These supplemental screenings are also important for dense breast tissue which appears white like cancerous tumors in a typical mammogram, making it difficult to read and interpret the results. In fact, breast density is one of the strongest predictors of a mammogram failing to detect cancer early, missing at least 40% of tumors in women with extremely dense breasts, a population already at a 4-6 times greater risk of developing breast cancer,” the bill’s sponsors said.

Ward, a breast cancer survivor herself, said at the bill signing that her personal experience with the disease gave her the opportunity to see where gaps in the health care system existed.

“With approximately 14,000 new cases of breast cancer per year in Pennsylvania, what this Legislature did by getting the bill to Gov. Shapiro for his signature, will have a huge positive effect on women’s health and lives,” she said.

Also on hand at the bill signing were Pennsylvania First Lady Lori Shapiro, the Shapiros’ daughter, Sophia, Pennsylvania Breast Cancer Coalition founder Pat Halpin-Murphy, and scores of breast cancer survivors and their advocates.

Dan can be reached at [email protected] and at https://twitter.com/DanMcCue

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