To Effect Change, Take a Seat at the Table

Georgia Giakoumis SpearGeorgia Giakoumis Spear, MD, Chief, Breast Imaging at NorthShore University HealthSystem and Clinical Assistant Professor of Radiology at the University of Chicago Pritzker School of Medicine, contributed this post.

Following my recent appearance as a medical expert in the passage of Illinois’ breast density notification legislation, the Illinois Radiological Society’s legal counsel asked me to testify in support of new state legislation (SB162) to mandate insurance coverage of diagnostic mammograms, one of the first bills of its kind.

I agreed. I felt compelled to use my medical knowledge to uphold a woman’s right to affordable healthcare. I made my way to Springfield to take my seat at the table and provide medical expert testimony at the Senate committee hearing. The questioning and opposition, from insurers and legislators alike, were strong.

To be successful in this setting, you must focus on the fact that early detection of breast cancer saves lives.

Many women need a diagnostic mammogram to determine whether a screening study has indeed found cancer. We must ensure that our patients have affordable access to examinations they need.

The clinical impact of a costly exam is noncompliance. This cost is too great if a woman is ultimately diagnosed with advanced stage disease.

In nearly two hours of intense debate, I stressed the importance of diagnostic mammograms in early breast cancer detection and how they help reduce advanced stage diagnoses.

The result? SB162 passed in the Senate committee. This step assured passage in the House as well. Recently, Illinois State Governor J.B. Pritzker signed the bill, which will take effect on January 1, 2020.

As breast imaging radiologists, we are privileged to interact with our patients and to provide our expertise to uphold our mission – to find breast cancer early when it is manageable and treatable.

Diagnostic mammograms can cost women upwards of $500 if they have not met their deductible. Particularly if her health plan has a high deductible, this can keep her from getting care she needs.

Beginning on Jan. 1, 2020, in Illinois, this particular economic hardship will be removed. Women will be covered for diagnostic mammograms deemed necessary by their physicians, without deductibles or co-pays.

This new law will have a great impact on women’s health. For that, I will take a seat at the table every time.

Speaking of taking a seat at the table – October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I urge you to take your seat at the table – whether that’s serving as a medical expert in the legislative process as I did, or using the new ACR mammography CME toolkit to talk with your referring providers about using this resource to explain to patients why women should get screening mammograms each year starting at age 40.

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