State of Michigan sending breast health letters may be life-saving, but costly

Mammograms & Insurance

GRAND RAPIDS, MICH. - Between 40 and 50 percent of women in the United States have dense breast -- this concerning statistic is what helped pass the Michigan's Breast Density Law.

When a woman gets a mammogram, she gets a letter in the mail notifying her if she has high breast density. Her doctor is also required to tell her that a mammogram may not be the best screening test for her.

The bill has been in place for two years, and while it is saving lives, it’s also costing women thousands of dollars.

For Brenda Osmun-Vandermeer, the Breast Density Law -- a bill her long-time Friend For Life and local breast cancer advocate Jennifer Jurgens helped to pass -- saved her life.

Brenda and Jen met in 1989 while playing volleyball. But, their biggest game change came the day Brenda was diagnosed with breast cancer.

"I didn't feel it. I didn't even know it was there." But Brenda was lucky, "They caught it so early, no chemo I just have to do radiation, a lumpectomy instead of mastectomy."

Under Michigan's Breast Density Law, Brenda's medical record was flagged and her doctor told her her dense breast tissue could put her at risk for breast cancer.

“We pushed to have this made into a law in Michigan so that if a woman has dense breasts, she has the right to know that the mammogram may not be the best test for her," Jen explained. "And that's exactly what happened in Brenda’s case."

But there was a catch -- insurance companies aren't paying for it. 

The test that saved Brenda’s life cost $2,000. It was enough to make her think twice and that's when her best friend stepped in to help, "I just wasn't going to let her off the hook -- I just had to know for sure."

Brenda agreed, “Why am I even questioning my health? I have a history of cancer so it's worth every penny to catch it early."

Brenda’s MRI found a lump and it was cancer, but fortunately, because it was caught so early Brenda’s treatment wasn't as invasive.

Two weeks after her lumpectomy, she was back playing volleyball and teaching Zumba and only needed 30 days of radiation.

Having a Friend For Life like Jen made a difference too. “When it's one of your friends, we owe it to each other to make sure that these things get taken care of."

Without this legislation, many women would be missing that early stage breast cancer diagnosis and be diagnosed at a later stage -- and would also have to deal with paying a much larger medical bill.

An early stage breast cancer diagnosis like Brenda’s costs about $80,000 to treat. A later stage breast cancer can cost upwards of $400,000 between surgery and treatment.

Other states that have passed similar breast density bills also require insurance companies to cover the cost. Michigan does not.

Komen Michigan covers insurance deductibles for screening and diagnostic testing and the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control program also provides some funding. They get those funds from the breast cancer license plates.

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