Legislation introduced by House Majority Leader K. Joseph Shekarchi would require health insurers in Rhode Island to fully cover all costs of mastectomies, including medical supplies needed subsequent to surgery.
The legislation (2017-H 6294) updates existing state law mandating insurance coverage for mastectomies, which in 2005 made coverage for mastectomies mandatory. In the 12 years since, insurers have chipped away at coverage for those who have to have mastectomies, instituting extremely high copays and deductibles, and leaving breast cancer survivors to cover all or much of the costs of necessary related items, such as compression sleeves or prostheses.
“This bill makes it clear that insurers must cover all of the costs of mastectomies, without copays and deductibles and without leaving people on the hook for all the various medical supplies they need as a result,” said Leader Shekarchi (D-Dist. 23, Warwick). “Breast cancer is a very emotional cancer, one that can leave even those who fight it very successfully with a tremendous feeling of loss. That loss should not be compounded by struggles to pay for their treatment or the things they need to heal and recover their lives.”
The legislation was introduced on June 8, and although Leader Shekarchi says he does not expect it to pass this year given its late introduction, he wanted to open up the conversation about coverage for mastectomies. The bill has wide support in the House, with 40 cosponsors including every female representative. The first four listed on the bill are Rep. Edith H. Ajello (D-Dist. 1, Providence), Rep. Teresa Tanzi (D-Dist. 34, South Kingstown, Narragansett), Rep. Grace Diaz (D-Dist. 11, Providence) and Rep. Charlene M. Lima (D-Dist. 14, Cranston, Providence).
He said he introduced the bill not because of the experience of any single particular woman, but because a number of women he knows have told him about being hit with unexpected costs relating to mastectomies.
“This is for all women, and all Rhode Islanders, because we all know someone who has had to fight breast cancer. One in eight women is diagnosed with it in her lifetime, making it the most common form of cancer among women. No women – or man – who has to go through breast cancer and a mastectomy should also be burdened with high medical bills as a result,” said Leader Shekarchi.
The bill is supported by the American Cancer Society’s Rhode Island chapter and the Gloria Gemma Breast Cancer Resource Foundation.