United States Congressman Leonard Lance, who represents New Jersey’s 7th District, recently held a roundtable session where he discussed the state of the fight against breast cancer, and his work in the nation’s capital to combat the disease.
Speaking at the Susan G. Komen North Jersey headquarters in Summit, Lance said, “I am very thankful to Komen for hosting the forum,” said Lance. “We want to make sure that all women in the United States who undergo the challenge of breast cancer are fully aware of their options regarding reconstructive surgery.”
He continued by saying, “Tremendous progress has been made in fighting breast cancer in the last generation. Susan G. Komen is at the forefront of all of that, but more progress has to be made.”
Lance recently introduced two important measures that address urgent concerns of the breast cancer support community: H.R. 2540, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act and H.R. 2739, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, which has already been passed in New Jersey.
“We have championed many important ideas and collaborated on various policies to combat this disease,” said Lance. “These two measures I have introduced in Congress will give patients more tools and resources in their fight. These types of policies are the bipartisan, practical solutions that can make a positive difference in the lives of many.”
Assemblywoman Nancy Munoz (LD-21) spoke on her resolution in the State Assembly urging support for H.R. 2540, and similar legislation on the state level that mandated the goals of H.R. 2739. “Too many women suffering from breast cancer, particularly in minority communities, are inadequately advised of reconstructive options. I cannot understate the importance of the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act to women across New Jersey and the United States, and applaud Congressman Lance in his leadership on this issue.”
H.R. 2540, the Breast Cancer Patient Education Act will require that patients be informed of the availability and coverage of breast reconstruction and prostheses. Since 1998, Federal law requires that insurance companies cover reconstructive surgery and prostheses, whether it is at the time of surgery, or long afterwards. But studies have shown that many women are unaware of their options. Says Lance, “This bill intends to put into place an education campaign to ensure that women coping with breast cancer, especially those of ethnic and minority status, are made more fully aware of their options, and as a result, gain more control over their health care decisions.”
Giving the patient information in their native language is really important, said Veronica Vasquez, Oncology Patient Navigator for Trinitas Comprehensive Cancer Center in Elizabeth, whose work is currently funded by Komen. “Susan G. Komen’s effort towards information is commendable,” said Vasquez.
A letter sent to Congressman Lance from Dr. Judith Salerno, President and Chief Executive Officer of Susan G. Komen just prior to the roundtable event, pledged the organization’s support of the bill and applauded Lance for his leadership. “While the decision to undergo breast reconstruction or use prostheses is a personal decision, all women should be made aware of their options and coverage,” said Salerno. “Unfortunately, studies have found that too few women are fully informed of their options—especially racial and ethnic minority groups. This legislation complements the work currently being done in communities across the country by Komen Affiliates ensuring that all women have access to high quality, affordable care.”
Cancer is complicated and is still so devastating, said Kimberly Beers, Director of Public Policy for Susan G. Komen National. The bill will impact everyone across the country. “This is a problem nationally — It is an opportunity to close a gap. We talk about disparities all of the time. Woman should have this information.”
“Breast cancer patients, regardless of their race or ethnicity, yearn to regain a ‘normal’ life after treatment. Losing a breast and wanting reconstruction is not about vanity, it is a way for breast cancer patients to rebuild their lives on a physical, emotional and psychological level,” said Dora Arias, Founder and Executive Director of Curemonos, an organization that helps medically-underserved Latina patients.
The American Society of Plastic Surgeons, an organization committed to educating women about the availability of procedures that can support their breast cancer recovery, was represented by Dr. Gregory Greco, who noted that the wounds of breast cancer are not just physical; they are emotional, psychological and spiritual.
“More and more, healthcare providers and patient champions understand that repairing cancer’s non-physical damage is part of our job as members of the cancer team,” says Greco. “For many women, that sort of healing, the kind that comes when someone feels whole again, can only be fully recognized through the reconstructive process. The Breast Cancer Patient Education Act Coalition works to improve patient outcomes and quality of life.”
According to a letter from American Association of Tissue Banks, since 1998, federal law has required health plans that offer breast cancer coverage to provide coverage for breast reconstruction and prosthesis. However, less than half of all women requiring a mastectomy are currently offered breast reconstruction surgery and only one in five elect to undergo the procedure.
“I’m hopeful that the legislation will pass. I hope that this and other similar forums will help make sure that woman are aware of their options,” said Lance. “This is where the nation will come together,” and that he will “work in Congress to bring these priorities and all priorities of the breast cancer community to action in Washington.”
This month, Lance also introduced H.R. 2739, the Cancer Drug Coverage Parity Act, which would require health insurance plans that cover traditional chemotherapy to provide equally favorable coverage for orally-administered anti-cancer medications. This bill is a critical step towards improving access to anti-cancer drugs by requiring companies to cover patient-administered and physician-administered anti-cancer drugs at the same cost. Correcting this disparity in coverage will help enable cancer patients to make healthcare decisions based on the best information and the best course of care available to them, rather than on cost and/or accessibility to treatment.
At the conclusion of the discussion, Lance reinforced his conviction that both these initiatives are bi-partisan in nature and address issues that potentially affect every member of Congress.
“All of us are working out of love for mothers, daughters, sisters and wives,” he said. “It is a completely different world regarding a breast cancer diagnosis than the world 50 years ago.”