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Kansas employees get coverage for breast cancer screenings, but residents will have to wait

A woman receives a mammogram.
Rhoda Baer
Despite insurance coverage, Kansas women may have out-of-pocket costs for breast cancer screenings.

A bill to require insurance companies to cover the cost of advanced breast cancer screenings for all Kansans failed to pass this year, but advocates say they will try again in 2025.

Delaying a diagnostic mammogram carries potentially deadly risks.

Diagnostic mammograms, MRIs, sonograms and other types of specialized breast imaging can help detect breast cancer when it’s most treatable.

Stage 1 breast cancer has an almost 100% survival rate. That’s why yearly mammogram testing is free for women over 40.

But when doctors find something that needs additional, more advanced testing, the cost can scare women off. A push to make it more affordable in Kansas has mostly failed, but advocates are celebrating some progress.

A bill introduced in the Kansas Statehouse this year would have forced insurance companies to cover the cost of specialized breast imaging. The bill died in committee without getting a hearing. But the state’s Health Care Commission approved beefed-up insurance coverage as part of the health care plan for state employees.

Rep. Linda Featherston, an Overland Park Democrat, and Republican Rep. Laura Williams, a Johnson County Republican, have been trying for years to require more insurance coverage for the tests.

Featherston said up to 12% of women are called back for a second breast screening because something was found on the first test. Of those women, 20% will skip the follow-up because of cost. While insurance may cover some of the costs, a patient might still pay around $1,000 out-of-pocket.

Delaying follow-up screenings allows cancer to spread, and stage 3 breast cancer has around a 60% survival rate. Stage 4 cancer has around a 20% survival rate.

Lawmakers in leadership positions in the Kansas House and Senate were reluctant to tell private insurance companies what to cover, but they did want to explore the cost of giving state employees this coverage.

Rep. Brenda Landwehr, a Wichita Republican, said the Legislature didn’t object to the idea of this coverage for state employees, but increasing health care coverage requires time to study the cost.

Featherston said starting out with state employees could show lawmakers that shifting the cost from patients to insurance companies isn’t that expensive.

Nearly two dozen states require insurance plans to cover more exhaustive breast imaging.

“This is not a political game. This is people’s lives,” Featherston said. “This is clearly, overwhelmingly supported by the House chamber, so we need to see that honored in the process.”

This story was originally published by The Beacon Kansas City, a fellow member of the KC Media Collective.

Blaise Mesa is based in Topeka, where he covers the Legislature and state government for the Kansas City Beacon. He previously covered social services and criminal justice for the Kansas News Service.
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