Tester to Pentagon: Cover breast cancer screenings
Senator wants Defense Dept. to reconsider decision to cut life-saving coverage
(BIG SANDY, Mont.) – Senator Jon Tester is calling on the Defense Department to reconsider its recent decision to stop covering certain breast cancer screenings for military service members, retirees, and their families.
Active-duty troops, retirees, and their families receive health benefits through the military’s TRICARE system. In January, TRICARE stopped covering a breast cancer test known as “BRCA.” The simple blood test uses DNA analysis to identify changes to genes that increase the likelihood of cancer.
Patients who test positive are 20 times more likely to get cancer. Tester wants the Defense Department to justify its January decision, which makes it harder for patients and their doctors to predict cancer.
“There is no doubt that our service members, veterans and military spouses deserve the very best coverage possible,” Tester wrote Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson. “This proactive test would save lives. I hope you reconsider your previous decision and recognize that coverage of this critical testing is the smart and right thing to do.”
A Montana service member and his wife, Heather Jefferson, brought the issue to Tester’s attention. Heather, a breast cancer survivor, was denied test coverage.
“It only makes sense for TRICARE ethically and financially to cover the BRCA test instead of putting someone through cancer again and have to cover those costs associated with it,” Jefferson said. “I would like to know whether or not I carry the mutated gene, so I can decrease my chances of getting another type of cancer.”
According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, the test is usually only recommended by doctors if the patient has a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer.
Tester recently cosponsored the bipartisan Mobile Mammography Promotion Act which allows mobile mammography vehicles to buy fuel without paying the federal gas tax, helping health care providers screen more women for breast cancer in rural areas.
Tester’s letter to Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs Jonathan Woodson is below and online HERE.
April 10, 2012
Dr. Jonathan Woodson
Assistant Secretary of Defense for Health Affairs
Director, TRICARE Management Activity
5111 Leesburg Pike, Suite 810
Falls Church, VA 22041-3206
Dear Dr. Woodson:
I appreciate your ongoing efforts to maintain and administer the TRICARE health care program on behalf of our nation’s service members, retirees and their families. I recognize the hard work of managing critical health care resources and networks while also helping ensure that the men and women who have sacrificed a great deal for our country have access to the quality of services and health care they have earned.
I write today with concerns about TRICARE Management Activity’s recent decision to add BRCA (Breast Cancer) testing to the “no government pay” category, and strongly urge you to reconsider. As a result of this decision, TRICARE Prime and Standard beneficiaries are no longer covered for critical testing that would not only save taxpayer dollars, but more importantly, would save lives. As you know, BRCA is a simple blood test that uses DNA analysis to identify harmful changes in genes that usually suppress breast and ovarian cancer. The benefits of this testing are clear. It helps assess the risk of hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. Patients that test positive for changes to the BRCA genes are 20 times more likely to get cancer. These patients can collaborate with their doctors to develop a strategy that includes preventative measures and close monitoring to catch tissue changes early. This proactive approach would save lives. According to the American Society of Clinical Oncology, BRCA testing is usually only recommended by doctors if the patient has a strong family history of breast or ovarian cancer. It is a small group of folks who would greatly benefit from the information only the BRCA test can provide.
There is no doubt that our service members, veterans and military spouses deserve the very best coverage possible. That is particularly the case for cost-effective services such as BRCA testing that could ultimately save lives. And I hope you reconsider your previous decision regarding BRCA testing, and recognize that TRICARE coverage of this critical testing is not only the smart thing to do, but that it is the right thing to do on behalf of those to whom we owe so much.