October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and it serves as a reminder of the advances the Affordable Care Act will bring to the U.S. health system.
Opponents of the ACA typically point to universal emergency-room access as the safety net that makes the law unnecessary.
GOP presidential nominee Mitt Romney made that argument in a recent interview.
“Well, we do provide care for people who don’t have insurance,” Romney said. “If someone has a heart attack, they don’t sit in their apartment and die. We pick them up in an ambulance, and take them to the hospital, and give them care. ... Some (states) provide that care through clinics, some provide that care through emergency rooms.”
Like many other diseases, breast cancer does not fit well into this tidy argument. Effective breast cancer treatment requires early detection and ongoing treatment, neither of which emergency rooms are equipped to provide.
Early detection often results when a woman who is otherwise healthy obtains a mammogram. Under the ACA, private insurance plans and Medicare cover mammograms with no copays. Last year, more than 6 million women with Medicare got a free mammogram.
The ACA also provides for annual well-woman doctor visits. According to census figures released last month, only 10 percent of uninsured people visit a doctor in a year for a routine check-up, depriving them of early detection and preventive care.
For women who discover they have breast cancer, the ACA prevents insurance companies from dropping coverage.
Because of the tremendous advances in treating breast cancer, many women go on to live productive lives.
Most such women, however, are tied to their existing insurance policies — and thus to whatever job they had when first diagnosed — because their pre-existing condition prevents them from obtaining coverage from a different insurance company.
Beginning in 2014 — assuming Romney is not successful in repealing the law — insurers may not reject coverage of a woman who has had breast cancer based upon her pre-existing condition.
The ACA — designed by conservatives — accomplishes all this while decreasing the deficit and providing access to insurance for 681,000 uninsured Alabamians, which includes 19,000 in Morgan County, 11,700 in Limestone County and 5,500 in Lawrence County.
Gov. Robert Bentley on Tuesday refused to comply with an ACA deadline, signaling his determination to thwart the law.
Emergency-room care is not the answer for breast cancer. Insurance coverage — as provided by the Affordable Care Act — is.
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