This week, Congress is considering a measure that will have significant implications for most state budgets and on the lives of thousands of women across the country. The issue, as part of the Tax Extender bill, is whether to renew for six months the federally enhanced Medicaid match that was originally part of last year's economic stimulus bill. Passage of this enhanced match is vital for the women and men who depend on Medicaid and other safety net programs.
Without the extension, states must make further cuts to vital state services, including investments in potentially life-saving breast cancer screening services for under-served women.
Without these services, many of the otherwise-eligible women will not get regular screenings. As an official from an organization whose CEO and founder is a breast cancer survivor, largely because her cancer was discovered early, let me stress the importance of screening and early detection. When breast cancer is discovered early, before it has spread beyond the breast, the 5-year relative survival rate is 98 percent, compared to just 23 percent for cancers that have spread to other parts of the body.
Without access to regular screening, breast cancer is more likely to be discovered too late, after it has spread and become more difficult and expensive to treat. The cost of these losses will be felt not only by the health care system that must treat them, but by the larger economy. And most significantly, the cost will be felt by the family that adjusts to life without a wife, without a mother.
With an election approaching, and voter anger over mounting budget deficits growing, it's understandable that many in Congress see this as the perfect time to say "no" to new spending. I appreciate the concern, but this is an instance where we cannot afford to say "no."
Many have asked: How much longer should states get extra federal Medicaid funding? Can we afford it? Both are legitimate and understandable questions. There will be a time, when the economy has improved, that states will no longer need extra support to keep public health programs operating. Unfortunately, that time has not yet arrived.
Thirty states have proposed or approved state budgets for FY2011 that assume Congress would approve a six-month Medicaid enhancement. It's clear from governors, state legislators and our grassroots advocates on the ground that an extension will enable states to maintain these safety net services for uninsured, under-insured and low-income women. Extending the enhanced Medicaid match for six months will carry the benefit through the end of most states' fiscal years, and will help promote economic stability at the state and local level. Failing to do so will put these programs in jeopardy.
For example, in California our grassroots have been working tirelessly to protect state screening funding. Without the enhanced Medicaid match, California will likely have to eliminate access to breast cancer screening and diagnostic services for hundreds of thousands of women.
While California has generated the most headlines, they are certainly not alone. South Carolina has already cut $1 million in breast cancer screening funding and will be forced to cut another $1 million, meaning a total of 8,000 under-served women will lose access to affordable cancer screening services. Women in other states face similar fates.
Congress must ensure the enhanced Medicaid match is ultimately extended. Women's lives are at stake and we cannot afford to fail them.