Health Law

Legal Info Can Save Some Cancer Patients

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Corrected: A little-known federal law entitles breast and cervical cancer patients under age 65 to Medicare treatment, even if they wouldn’t normally qualify for the federally funded health care program for the indigent.

But in a number of states only some health care centers qualify for Medicare reimbursement under the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act. That means it can be crucial to patients to seek treatment initially at a facility that receives federal funding for a cancer-detection program, reports the Wall Street Journal (sub. req.).

One patient who didn’t know about the law was Shirley Loewe. She went in 2003 to Good Shepherd Medical Center in Longview, Texas, for treatment of her breast cancer. It was the first step in a nightmarish multi-year odyssey that led her to quit work, live in substandard conditions and seek care from more than half a dozen institutions in two states.

At one point, a social worker reportedly told Loewe’s daughter, who is a nurse: “”People die every day waiting for the system to catch up. Why is your mother any different?” Although Loewe was eventually treated, with apparent success, she died on June 25 at age 55 after her cancer spread.

Had she initially sought treatment at the Wellness Center in Longview, she would have been covered by Medicare, the newspaper writes. Staff at Good Shepherd apparently didn’t refer her to the nearby facility because they didn’t know about the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act either.

(Corrected on 9-14-07 at 10:46 CDT to specify that cervical cancer, as well as breast cancer, is covered by the statute.)

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