Source of Screening Affects Women's Eligibility for Coverage of Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment in Some States

GAO-09-384: Published: May 22, 2009. Publicly Released: Jun 22, 2009.

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Tens of thousands of women die each year from breast or cervical cancer. While screening and early detection through mammograms and Pap tests--followed by treatment--can improve survival, low-income, uninsured women are often not screened. In 1990, Congress authorized the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) to fund screening and diagnostic services for such women, which led CDC to establish the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program. The Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000 was also enacted to allow states to extend Medicaid eligibility to women screened under the Early Detection Program and who need breast or cervical cancer treatment. Screened under the program is defined, at a minimum, as screening paid for with CDC funds. GAO examined the Early Detection Program's screening of eligible women, states' implementation of the Treatment Act, Medicaid enrollment and spending under the Treatment Act, and alternatives available to women ineligible for Medicaid under the Treatment Act. To do this, GAO compared CDC data on women screened by the Early Detection Program from 2002 to 2006 with federal estimates of the eligible population, surveyed program directors on the 51 states' (including the District of Columbia) implementation of the Treatment Act, analyzed Medicaid enrollment and spending data, and conducted case studies in selected states.

The CDC's Early Detection Program providers screen more than half a million low-income, uninsured women a year for breast and cervical cancer, but many eligible women are screened by other providers or not screened at all. Comparing CDC screening data with federal estimates of low-income, uninsured women, GAO estimated that from 2005 through 2006, 15 percent of eligible women received a mammogram from the Early Detection Program, while 26 percent were screened by other providers and 60 percent were not screened. For Pap tests, GAO estimated that from 2004 through 2006, 9 percent were screened by the program, 59 percent by other providers, and 33 percent were not screened. Most states extend Medicaid eligibility under the Treatment Act to more women than is minimally required. As of October 2008, 17 states met the minimum requirement to offer Medicaid eligibility to women whose screening or diagnostic services were paid for with CDC funds; 15 extended eligibility to women screened or diagnosed by a CDC-funded provider, whether CDC funds paid specifically for these services or not; and 19 states further extended eligibility to women who were screened or diagnosed by a non-CDC-funded provider. In most of the states that offer Medicaid eligibility only to women served with CDC funds or by a CDC-funded provider, if a woman is screened and diagnosed with cancer outside the Early Detection Program, she cannot access Medicaid coverage under the Treatment Act. Medicaid enrollment and average spending under the Treatment Act vary across states. In 2006, state enrollment ranged from fewer than 100 women to more than 9,300. Median enrollment was 395 among the 39 states reporting data, with most experiencing enrollment growth from 2004 to 2006. Among the 39 states, average monthly spending per enrollee was $1,067, ranging from $584 to $2,304. Spending may vary due to several factors, including differences in state eligibility policies and practices and Medicaid benefit plan design. Few statewide alternatives to Medicaid coverage are available to low-income, uninsured women who need breast or cervical cancer treatment but are ineligible for Medicaid under the Treatment Act. Early Detection Program directors in only four of the states with more limited eligibility standards reported having a statewide program that pays for cancer treatment or provides broader health insurance or free or reduced-fee care. And while several sources identified possible local resources as alternatives--donated care, funding from local charity organizations, and county assistance--the availability and applicability of these resources varies by area. For example, an Early Detection Program official in Indiana told us that densely populated areas of the state had multiple treatment resources, but women living in rural areas had limited access to them.

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