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State leaders gathered at the governor’s mansion in Raleigh on Sept. 20 for a roundtable to discuss House Bill 560 — a piece of legislation that would expand access to affordable breast cancer screenings across North Carolina.

N.C. Sen. Sydney Batch (D-Wake), a breast cancer survivor, said she asked Gov. Roy Cooper to organize the roundtable discussion to help push the legislation H.B. 560. The bill would require private insurers to cover diagnostic or supplemental exams for breast cancer on the same cost-sharing terms as screening mammography.

Breast cancer, when detected early, is highly treatable. Affordable screenings can help catch the disease in its earliest stages, which is critical for successful treatment and improved outcomes, according to an email from the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services.

Batch said the bill passed the N.C. House with unanimous support, but has hit some roadblocks in the Senate, where it has been since May.

“We had a lot of different individuals, many of us that were breast cancer survivors, and people from the N.C. Department of Health and Human Services to go ahead and talk about the importance of proper screening,” Batch said. 

According to the NCDHHS's email, the affordability of breast cancer screenings is of paramount importance. Batch said mammography is not the most efficient way to detect breast cancer in people with dense breast tissue, and some have to have ultrasounds or an MRI to detect their cancer.

Though Medicaid covers breast cancer screenings for eligible individuals, not everyone is eligible for Medicaid, according to the NCDHHS's email. Batch said private insurers are not currently required to actually pay for these non-mammography screenings.

“I’m on a state health plan, for instance, and I had to get an MRI with and without contrast because of my breast cancer diagnosis,” she said. “I had to pay $670 towards my deductible and then insurance kicked in the rest. Most women do not have the ability to go ahead and just pay for whatever that is.”

Batch also said that H.B. 560 would require that private insurers cover these screenings the same way that they cover mammography.

N.C. Rep. Mary Belk (D-Mecklenburg) is one of the primary sponsors of H.B. 560. She has had triple-negative breast cancer — a type of invasive breast cancer that often spreads faster and has a worse prognosis — and said this bill will save lives. 

“Women are having to make a decision whether or not they can afford the diagnostic screening that we're talking about,” Belk said. “And some women are doing that and we're defeating the purpose of early screening to detect cancer early and treat it and that's a little bit frustrating.”

Some barriers for women include out-of-pocket costs, co-pays or deductibles. Rural and low-income areas also face barriers such as transportation challenges and limited healthcare resources, according to the NCDHHS's email.

Providing affordable screenings also empowers women to take charge of their health and make informed decisions about preventive care, according to the NCDHHS's email. 

“I think it saves lives, and I think it saves money,” Belk said. “It just makes sense.” 

@DTHCityState | city@dailytarheel.com

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