By Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman Schultz
As we celebrate 25 years of breast cancer awareness, education and empowerment by proudly displaying pink ribbons everywhere from the work place to NFL football games, it’s important that we remember the importance of the tiny pink ribbon.
Breast cancer is a disease that knows no boundaries. It strikes women from all backgrounds, races, and ethnicities, the rich and the poor, the old and the young. In the United States, women have a 1 in 8 chance of developing invasive breast cancer during their lifetime, and a 1 in 35 chance that the disease will take their life.
This year, approximately 261,100 women in America will be diagnosed with breast cancer. Nearly 40,000 of those women will not see another birthday. Despite this harrowing statistic, there is good news on the horizon - breast cancer death rates have been decreasing. There is more hope for survival as we discover and access new treatments, guarantee more women comprehensive health care coverage, and focus on education and early detection.
That is why the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act that Congress passed in 2010 is so important. The Act eliminates disparities by driving down the cost of health care and extending coverage to 31 million uninsured or under-insured Americans. This comprehensive law puts an emphasis on prevention and wellness, so that medical professionals can turn our nation’s sick care system into a true health care system.
As one of the 2.5 million breast cancer survivors living in our country today, I wanted to use my own experiences with breast cancer to help other young women deal with the pain and difficulty of diagnosis and treatment. That’s why I introduced the Breast Health Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act of 2010 – or the EARLY Act – which helps young women learn more about their bodies and their risks.
The EARLY Act, which became law as part of the Affordable Care Act, focuses on a central tenet: that we must empower young women to understand their bodies and speak up for their health. The law works to educate certain groups, such as African American women and Jewish women of Eastern European descent, who are disproportionately at risk for breast cancer at a young age. The EARLY Act also contains an education program for medical professionals, who all too often turn young women away.
In the years since my diagnosis, countless women have approached me to talk about their own personal health care struggles. There are women who have foregone their annual mammograms because they could not afford the co-pay of the exam. I have heard from women who have had to choose between surgery, radiation, and chemotherapy, despite a physician’s recommendation for multiple treatments, because the cost was simply too great to bear. And there are those women who avoid a diagnosis, despite discovering what they feel could be cancer, because of the very real fear that an insurance company might rescind their coverage.
Fortunately, the Affordable Care Act will make these fears a thing of the past. The law limits health disparities and stresses prevention by eliminating cost-sharing for routine tests like mammograms and colonoscopies; it abolishes annual and lifetime caps on what an insurance policy will pay; and it finally ends the egregious practice of denying coverage to patients with pre-existing conditions. This provision is game-changing for cancer survivors.
Together, we can support our mothers, sisters, daughters, and sister-friends, and eradicate breast cancer once and for all. We can help the women in our lives get a head start by talking to them today. By sharing with more women the knowledge we possess - about risk, about early detection, about practicing good breast health - we can give more women the power to stand up, the power to speak up and the power to survive.