Worried about a possible gubernatorial veto of breast cancer prevention legislation, House Republican Leader Themis Klarides put on a full court press for the bill at a Monday news conference.
The bill would require private insurance companies to cover 3D mammography, also known as tomosynthesis. The bill, which overwhelmingly passed the House 139-3 and the Senate 36-0, is headed for Gov. Dannel P. Malloy’s desk.
The legislation does not mandate the 3D imaging of breasts, but if prescribed by a cancer specialist, would be covered under insurance programs, according to proponents.
Despite the bipartisan support for the bill, a report from the state’s Insurance Department states the cost of mandated tomosynthesis coverage would be $9.2 million for fiscal year 2017 and $10 million for fiscal year 2018.
Klarides and other supporters of the bill dispute those figures, however, stating while the cost of purchasing new equipment would be more expensive initially, the money would be made up because the 3D tests are more accurate, meaning thousands of 2D tests that are currently being done would no longer be needed.
The 3D technology is better at preventing false positives, and would prevent repeat mammograms, said Klarides and many other medical experts at Monday’s press conference.
Klarides, several times during the press conference, referred to Malloy as a “governor who has been very supportive of women’s health issues,” during his tenure in office.
Asked directly whether she believes Malloy will veto the bill, she said that she’s heard Malloy’s “interested in vetoing,” the legislation. She added: “I don’t think he (Malloy) will let us down.”
But any bill with a fiscal note is likely to get a greater degree of scrutiny this year with the state facing a $960 million budget deficit.
“It’s certainly hard to question the governor’s record on women’s health issues,” Devon Puglia, a spokesman for Malloy, said. ”Like all bills, we’re looking at this legislation closely and it’s corresponding fiscal impact to the state as an unfunded mandate.”
Klarides said while nobody understands the state’s fiscal budget crisis situation better than her, “we can’t afford to tie ourselves to laws that prevent us from using any new technology that came along after 1988.”
She said “3D mammograms will help people live long and fruitful lives,” even though it’s hard to calculate the fiscal impact of the technology.
During the Senate debate on the bill, Sen. Rob Kane, R-Waterford, said he struggled a little bit with the bill until he spoke with an oncologist friend and learned more about its benefits.
“It will actually save lives, but it will also save money due to the lack of comebacks,” Kane said.
Also speaking in favor of the legislation at the press conference was Sen. Joe Crisco, D-Woodbridge, whose wife is currently going through breast cancer treatments.
Crisco gave an emotional speech when the Senate was debating the bill in the last few days of the General Assembly session, fighting back tears as he talked about how his wife had annual mammograms and checkups every four months, and yet has been fighting breast cancer for two months now.
“Chemotherapy treatments, surgery, and now she faces 12 sessions of radiation,” Crisco told his colleagues.
At Monday’s press conference, Crisco added: “Unfortunately my wife was just diagnosed recently. With this new technology she would have known much, much earlier.’’
Klarides said the legislation does not mandate additional procedures or costs for insurance carriers. The bill simply says that if a patient requests the tomosynthesis mammogram, and a doctor concurs, the practice would be covered.
“Breast cancer has affected all of us in one way or another. We all know someone or have a relative that has fought this disease. We have worked hard for years to arrive at this point and I hope we can see this to the end,’’ Klarides said.
One of those who spoke in favor of the bill at Monday’s press conference was Dr. Liane E. Philpotts, professor of Radiology and Biomedical Imaging and Chief of Breast Imaging at the Yale School of Medicine.
Philpotts, like Klarides, argued that “it would be more expensive in the long run” not to use tomosynthesis mammogram testing. “We are ahead of the curve in using this testing at Yale,” she said. “Because the testing is so exact, so precise, we are able to eliminate many unnecessary follow-up tests.”
Those follow-up tests, Philpotts argued, are what drives up the costs of breast cancer coverage.
Sen. Michael McLachlan, R-Danbury, said the legislation “isn’t just about health care.”
One of the manufacturers of 3D mammography equipment — Hologic — is located in McLachlan’s hometown of Danbury.
“This is also about jobs,’’ said McLachlan.