An odd thing happened to me recently during Breast Cancer Awareness Week. My entire place of business was dressed in pink, and I hate pink. I was in the process of saying so when my phone rang. A beloved cousin was calling to tell me she had just been diagnosed with breast cancer. With an early diagnosis, however, her prognosis is excellent. That would have been enough of a coincidence; however, an hour later, I got a call from another woman who said exactly the same thing. One hour, two women whose lives had been saved by awareness and early diagnosis. I vowed never to complain about pink again.
Then yesterday at a beauty salon, I chatted with a woman who had just had her toe nails painted pink, with the signature pink ribbon on each big toe. A breast cancer survivor herself, she is big into talking up the value of mammograms with every woman she meets. Having become the (hopefully temporary) guardian of a cat, I then went to the store and bought cat litter for the first time in several months. On the handle of the plastic container was a pink sticker with the ubiquitous ribbon and the message, “We support breast cancer research.”
Here’s a public awareness campaign that works, and thousands of women are alive because of it. The survival rate for those diagnosed early with breast cancer exceeds 96%.
Clearly, mammograms save lives; however, 13 million women in the U.S. aged 40 or over have never had one. For most, it’s a matter of cost. The $600-a-month insurance plan I had last year doesn’t cover them; the $800-a-month plan I was forced to buy this year does, but with a hefty “co-pay.” For many women in America, the cost of routine health maintenance, including mammograms, is simply out of reach.
This is an excellent example of why this country so desperately needs affordable health care, not just expensive emergency care for poor and middle-income families. Optimum health care requires much more than just emergency crisis management. It requires consistent access to health and wellness services—services too many Americans can’t afford.
The status quo is intolerable. Americans have waited forty years for a viable national plan for health services, while the insurance industry and its allies have stalled for time. The wait is over. Now is the time for comprehensive health care reform.