New Policy To Impact Free Mammogram Program

Cancer advocates are speaking out against a decision that will impact tens of thousands of women in San Diego County, 10News reported.

Beginning in January, the state program Every Woman Counts will stop providing free mammograms for many low-income women -- a move advocates call a death sentence.

Citing budget cutbacks, state health officials said in January women in their 40s who do not qualify for Medi-Cal will not be able to get free breast cancer screenings.

The new policy outrages Alicia Enriquez, whose battle with cancer began nearly four years ago with a lump discovered in her breast. Because she was uninsured, she went to the Vista Community Clinic and received a free mammogram that was paid for by the program.

Enriquez's breast cancer led to several surgeries, but in February she will mark four years without cancer.

"Without the program, I would not be here," said Enriquez.

While Enriquez's life was saved, many local cancer advocates fear there may not be many more.

Program managers at the Vista Community Clinic said because early detection is so critical when it comes to breast cancer, the new policy could be devastating.

"I don't think there's much doubt women will die because of this policy," said Natasha Riley, manager of the Breast Health Program at the Vista Community Clinic.

Riley said women in their 40s make up half of the women seeking mammograms at the clinic. It is the same age group being singled out by a federal task force as not needing routine mammograms -- recommendations that were roundly rejected by the cancer and medical communities.

State officials said their decision is purely a budget decision, but some said it sends a message that women in their 40s don't matter.

"It's the biggest fear of my life, knowing someone else is in danger and there's nothing they can do. What do you do with that emptiness? It's not fair that women, many low-income, have to sit in front of the mirror with a lump and not be able to do anything about it," said Enriquez.

The decision will also impact other women outside of their 40s, as screenings for women in their 50s will be halted for six months.

State officials are trying to get nonprofit groups to help fill the gap, but several groups told 10News they simply do not have the money.