Close the loophole keeping breast cancer patients from the health care they qualify for

FILE – In this May 22, 2015 photo, a woman gets a mammogram at the University of Michigan Cancer Center in Ann Arbor, Mich. (Kimberly P. Mitchell/Detroit Free Press via AP, File)

Lawmakers have enormous power to impact our daily lives. Our representatives in Washington have the opportunity to make a difference for thousands of Utahns — by closing an arbitrary loophole keeping breast cancer patients from the healthcare they qualify for.

This year, an estimated 42,250 women and 530 men in the U.S. will die of breast cancer. Almost all these deaths — 90% — are because of metastatic disease: cancer that has spread from the breast to the bones, lungs, or other parts of the body. There is no cure.

I have metastatic breast cancer. I lost my mother to metastatic breast cancer at a young age, and also lost my cousin, Tarina, to the disease last year. I know first-hand how this disease impacts families.

Individuals who have metastatic breast cancer and can no longer work are entitled to Medicare coverage under Social Security Disability Insurance (SSDI); however, these patients must endure lengthy and arbitrary waiting periods for access to health care. With an average life expectancy of only three years for metastatic breast care patients, there is no time to waste.

This must change. That is why we, as advocates with the National Breast Cancer Coalition, want to see The Metastatic Breast Cancer Access to Care Act (H.R. 549, S. 663) enacted into law. This bill would waive the waiting periods and provide immediate access to those who already qualify. After all, they paid for it.

The legislation has strong bipartisan support in Congress, but Sens. Mitt Romney and Mike Lee have yet to support it. I urge them to do so immediately.

My cousin Tarina and her family would have benefited from this legislation, which would have granted her care she was already qualified to receive. Instead, she was forced to work up until just days before she entered hospice, just so she could afford insurance to pay for her medication.

Congress has the power to eliminate the barriers to health care and financial support for those with metastatic breast cancer. Now they need the will.

Denise Smith, Utah Advocate, National Breast Cancer Coalition, Lehi

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