A new bill in front of the Texas State Legislature would change women’s lives, drastically.
That’s because there’s a technology out there that is better at finding invasive breast cancer in its earliest stages and reducing costly, stressful callbacks. The technology is called breast tomosynthesis – also known as a 3-D mammography – and studies show it finds 54 percent more invasive breast cancers. It can also significantly reduce (by 37 percent) unnecessary recalls, commonly referred to in the industry as ‘false positives’. Traditional mammograms provide doctors with only a two-dimensional picture, which can obscure abnormalities in breast tissue. By comparison, 3-D mammograms offer more and clearer images of breast tissue. Despite these clear advantages, many insurance companies still do not cover 3-D mammograms for breast cancer screening and women who want the peace of mind they represent must pay for the exam themselves. That’s where the Texas State Legislature comes in. A bill introduced by Rep. Senfronia Thompson, HB 1036, would require health insurance companies to cover the cost of a 3-D mammogram just like any other screening mammogram. The law would leave decisions about breast cancer screening options to a woman and her health care provider. This law would go a long way toward recognizing Texas’ contributions to the development of the better mammogram. The first patient in the country diagnosed with breast cancer using only 3-D technology is from Texas. She is now a breast cancer survivor living in the Houston area, and her diagnosis was presented as a medical case study by me to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) in 2010. A year later in 2011, 3-D mammograms were approved by the FDA and are now on their way to becoming the preferred technology at hospitals, radiology practices and breast centers in Texas and across the country. More than 100 peer-reviewed publications have confirmed the clinically superior results of 3-D mammograms over older mammogram technologies. Better patient outcomes provide another benefit to the health care system, namely lower costs. It is easier and less expensive to treat breast cancer when it is detected in the earliest stages of the disease. Fewer recalls also means insurance companies have to pay for fewer, ultimately unnecessary, follow-up tests. An economic model based on real-world health insurance claims shows that insurance plans save about $28 per woman screened with a 3-D mammogram. For a plan with one million members, this translates into a cost savings of roughly $2.4 million per year. These savings translate to Medicaid enrollees as well. Using Medicaid claims, the model predicts an annual cost savings of about $8 per woman screened. Thousands of women in Texas have already benefitted from 3-D mammograms, but we can do better. The bill in front of the Texas State Legislature gives us the opportunity to extend the benefit of a smarter, more accurate breast cancer screening to all women in Texas. At a time when health care – and the future of our nation’s entire health care system – is so uncertain, we rely more than ever on our state lawmakers to take action and stand up for Texans. Stephen Rose, M.D., is Chief Medical Officer at Solis Mammography.
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