By Heather Chura-Smith
Media Relations Manager
More women in Ohio will soon have access to additional breast cancer screenings, thanks to legislation sponsored by two Cincinnati-area state representatives and supported by UC Health.
House Bill (HB) 371, recently passed by the Ohio General Assembly and expected to be signed into law by Gov. Mike DeWine soon, will require insurance companies to cover additional screenings for individuals who are at high risk for breast cancer, or have dense breast tissue, thanks to the advocacy of survivors, UC Health physicians and state legislators.
Wearing pink and carrying pink carnations, Michele Young walked the halls of the Ohio Legislature to advocate for HB 371, which is now known as the Breast Cancer Bill. As a breast cancer survivor, Young made it her personal mission to save lives by making 21st-century technology accessible for breast cancer screening.
“The passage of HB 371 means every Ohio woman will have the right to have early detection of breast cancer, and it will be the beginning of the end of breast cancer as a fatal illness. Early detection means a 99% chance of a cure. In my case, it was 1%. We have just changed the odds for every woman in Ohio. We are just beginning. University of Cincinnati eradicated polio. Today, we will do the same for breast cancer,” says Young, noting, “House Bill 371 is only the start.”
Doctors estimated mammograms missed detecting her cancer for years due to dense breast tissue. When Young was diagnosed with late-stage cancer in 2018, she was told to complete her bucket list. After seeking treatment at the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center from Elyse Lower, MD, former director of the University of Cincinnati Cancer Center Breast Cancer Program and former director of Oncology at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, she beat the disease and has remained in remission for almost three years.
Young promised Dr. Lower she would fight for all the women who underwent treatment with her. The two assembled a team of UC Health physicians and legislators who would draft, introduce and advocate for the legislation, including Ann Brown, MD, UC Health breast radiologist and assistant professor at the University of Cincinnati College of Medicine, and Mary Mahoney, MD, UC Health chief of imaging, Benjamin Felson Endowed Chair and professor of radiology at the UC College of Medicine
HB 371 provides screening for all adult women—they will no longer have to pay out-of-pocket for additional screenings, ending barriers that separated those who could afford to pay and those who could not from receiving necessary screening.
The bill also expands the current definition of mammography to allow access to additional, more accurate screenings, such as 3D mammography known as tomosynthesis or magnetic resonance imaging.
Women with dense breasts, who are at higher risk for the disease, will be informed of the increased risk and the potential need for advanced screening.
“Up to 75% of the women who receive a breast cancer diagnosis have no family history. Through more detailed screening tools such as tomosynthesis, studies have shown cancer detection rates to increase by about 40%. It’s essential in our work and to all patients that they are educated on the risks and have access to these tools,” states Dr. Brown. Early detection improves a patient’s survival rate and the cost effectiveness of treatments, according to the CDC.
Under the new state law, physicians can determine patient eligibility for additional screening. Other factors, including the patient’s personal or family history, dense breast tissue, ancestry or genetic predisposition, can also determine eligibility.
Ohio joins 12 other states and the District of Columbia in requiring some level of additional screenings, but there is no standard language across each state’s respective bill.
Ohio HB 371 passed with bipartisan support during Cancer Survivorship Month.
Representative Jean Schmidt (OH-65), an original co-sponsor of the bill, believes it will be a game changer for women, adding, “The Breast Cancer Bill is truly an economical, effective and lifesaving piece of bi-partisan legislation that will help all women in Ohio.”
“House Bill 371 is a powerful example of what laws can accomplish with bi-partisanship and support from the state’s top doctors, advocates, legislators and everyday Ohioans,” says Representative Sedrick Denson (OH-33), who also co-sponsored the bill. “Everyone came together to pass this model legislation and fight for the health of all women in Ohio.”