Physicians and breast cancer activists worry that thousands of women may die of breast cancer simply because they cannot afford the annual mammograms to detect the cancer at an early, survivable stage.
Now low-income women without health insurance or who are underinsured may qualify for free mammograms at several Baltimore area hospitals, thanks to a program by the state's Health Services Cost Review Commission, the group which regulates hospital charges throughout the state.
Participants can receive a screening or consultative mammogram, a clinical breast examination and any follow-up diagnostic services -- such as a sonogram or surgical biopsy -- for a maximum charge of $45. Participating hospitals have pledged to pick up additional uninsured charges for treatment that may result from a screening's findings.
The three-year program is open to low-income women 40 and above who do not have health insurance as well as to those whose health insurance does not cover screening mammograms and those who cannot pay their insurance deductible. It is also open to low-income women who receive Medicare. Although women over age 50 are advised to get an annual mammogram, Medicare only pays for a mammogram every two years. The state's program will fill the gap.
About 241,000 Maryland women -- a quarter of the state's womenaged 40 and above -- do not have health insurance that covers recommended screening mammography, according to the state health department. Roughly 85,000 women have no health insurance at all.
At its present funding, the state's program hopes to serve 15,000 women a year.
State law requires many health insurance programs in Maryland to cover a bi-annual screening mammogram for women in their 40s and an annual mammogram for those over 50. However, the law does not apply to workers at companies that are self-insured or to those which employ fewer than 50 people.
Twenty-nine of the state's 52 hospitals will participate in the $4.2 million program. Area hospitals which offer it currently are Bon Secours, Harbor Hospital Center, Greater Baltimore Medical Center, Liberty Medical Center, Maryland General Hospital, St. Agnes Hospital and the University of Maryland Cancer Center.
For details about the program and other participating hospitals, call (800) 422-6237.