Priced out of a mammogram |

Priced out of a mammogram

Amid all October’s pink-ribboned reminders to get a regular mammogram, an increasing number of people find they don’t have the funds – or the health insurance – to get the screening.

“We’re seeing some reduction in folks coming in,” said Nurse Linda Aeschliman of Sierra Nevada Memorial Hospital’s Breast Imaging Center.

As people lose their jobs or drop insurance coverage to save money, they put off mammograms.

But community efforts such as the Barbara Schmidt Millar Fund, and a price cut on the hospital’s end, are helping break down the barriers for mammography at a time when the state is cutting subsidy programs.

In July, state officials put a hold on mammograms provided to low-income women through Medi-Cal’s Cancer Detection Program. While Medi-Cal still covers the mammograms for high-risk patients, the program’s future is uncertain until a state budget passes, according to Department of Public Health Spokesman Al Lundeen.

Agencies that rely on that pool of state funding are scrambling.

“Everybody else is completely panicking,” said SNMH Foundation Executive Director Kimberly Parker. “Our community is the only one I know of that’s going to be able to continue.”

That’s because grassroots efforts such as the Barbara Schmidt Millar triathlon replenish the hospital’s fund for people who can’t afford the $500 mammogram.

Other efforts to soften the effects of the recession include a major price cut on the hospital’s end. Women without insurance who don’t use the Millar fund pay $299 for a mammogram. That discount took effect last week.

The good news spreads to the insured, too. Under President Obama’s health care reform, many preventive care screenings – including mammograms – are entirely covered by insurers and no longer require a co-pay.

While the cost is a major barrier, so is anxiety about the test itself. The hospital is using grant funds from the Susan G. Komen Foundation to continue Moonlight Mammograms – evening events at the hospital’s breast imaging center that pair the screening with food, wine and live music.

Chances of survival are much greater when breast cancer is detected earlier, so the hospital is eager to get as many people screened as possible.

The next opportunity is tomorrow night.

“You can come with someone who’s been putting it off,” Aeschliman said. “It’s a fun event, and there’s so much less anxiety.”

To contact Staff Writer Michelle Rindels, e-mail or call (530) 477-4247.

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