Anna Eshoo

Progress Report On Women's Health - April 19, 1997

Anna Eshoo
April 29, 1997— U.S. House of Representatives, Washington, DC
Congressional floor speech
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Mr. Speaker, I am here today to speak about the Reconstructive Breast Surgery Benefits Act of 1997 H.R. 164 and S. 609.

I am proud to be the original House sponsor of this critical legislation which will end the short-sighted insurance practice of denying coverage for post-mastectomy breast reconstruction based on the false assumption that the surgery is merely a 'cosmetic' procedure. When in reality, reconstructive surgery is often an integral part of the mental and physical recovery of a woman who undergoes a traumatic amputation of her breast.

Specifically, the Reconstructive Breast Surgery Benefits Act requires health insurance companies that provide coverage for mastectomies to also cover reconstructive breast surgery resulting from those mastectomies (including surgery to establish symmetry between breasts).

Approximately 85,000 American women undergo a mastectomy each year as part of their treatment for breast cancer. While this is a life-saving procedure, it's also a horribly disfiguring operation. Studies have demonstrated that many women say that fear of losing a breast is a leading reason why they do not participate in early breast cancer detection programs. More than 25,000 mastectomy patients each year elect to undergo breast reconstruction.

Since I began my work on this bill, I've heard daily from so many who have relayed their own individual experiences to me. Karen Ingalls, for example--a breast cancer survivor from San Mateo, CA--read about my legislation and asked her coworkers to write to me if they support it. In just 4 hours, she collected signatures and comments from 120 people. Karen herself wrote, 'I feel denial of coverage is just one more assault on [a] women's psyche. Something must be done to prevent this.'

I sometimes hear from critics who ask why 'all-of-a-sudden' there seems to be a congressional rush toward breast cancer legislation as opposed to other serious health care conditions. My answer to this question is that we, as representatives of our people, are responding to the needs of breast cancer patients because we have heard the stories of thousands of American women and men who have been victimized twice by breast cancer first by the disease, then by the callous treatment of insurance companies. I find it regrettable that there are those who find legislative responsiveness to constituent needs to be out of line. While comprehensive health care reform would have addressed many of the specific complaints being brought to members of Congress, the political reality today is that only incremental measures have a chance of becoming law at this time. The suggestions that Congress should ignore some festering health care problems just because all of them cannot be addressed simultaneously is a great way to ensure that everyone suffers equally. I much prefer helping those we can whenever possible starting with, but not limited to, breast cancer patients.

Mr. Speaker, I urge my colleagues to cosponsor H.R. 164, the Reconstructive Breast Surgery Benefits Act.

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