Law Provides Assistance, Guidance to Breast Cancer Patients in Need

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • The Patient Navigator Outreach and Chronic Disease Prevention Act of 2005 wended its way through Congress and was signed into law two years ago, on June 29, 2005.  This law provides the free services of health professionals (or trained patient liaisons) to cancer patients who, due to language, cultural, economic, or other barriers, need help navigating the maze of cancer treatment.

    Cancer patients are given assistance with insurance forms or, if uninsured, are offered help getting covered by public programs or private insurance. Navigators ensure that patients are being given timely care. They can inform patients about possible participation in clinical trials; identify any barriers to treatment (lack of transportation, lack of child care), and address them; and identify community resources to help the patient. In short, patient navigators are the guiding hand that we all wish we had, when facing the blizzard of paperwork and overwhelming amount of details and decisions that cancer treatment entails.
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    Maybe you’re going through cancer treatment as you read this. Or maybe it was years ago. But who’ll ever forget the incredible amount of mental diligence and endurance it took to successfully make it through an operation, possibly chemo, probably radiation, maybe drug therapy? Who’s going to take care of your aging mother while you’re in the hospital? Who’ll watch the kids  when you’re so sick you can’t even lift your head off the pillow? And radiation: how are you possibly going to get to the hospital every day in the dead of winter, when you live 40 miles away on a road that’s only sporadically plowed?

    And then there are the complications, because nothing about cancer ever follows a straight path. Physical complications –- side effects, an operation gone wrong, after-effects like lymphedema –- are straightforward, compared to the nightmare that’s insurance. In the case of cancer, the physical is often easier than the fiscal.

    Who can forget trying to match up hospital bills, totaling in the five or even six figures, with insurance deductibles, co-pays, and no-pays (as in “this procedure is not covered under your current plan”)? And, failing that, being harassed by a credit bureau, calling night after night to see if you’ve “found” that $900 yet? Even the petty details of how to get extended sick leave at work without losing your pay, how to qualify for short-term disability, or getting out of jury duty because chemo has you staying close to the bathroom, for crying out loud –- it’s all time-consuming, brain-consuming, and spirit-destroying.

    Remember all that? Imagine going through it all without being able to speak English. Or as a middle-school dropout. Or in an area of the country so remote that the nearest doctor is 90 miles away. If it’s a challenge –- and it is –- for “people of privilege,” then imagine the enormity of the problems faced by those whose lives are already full of obstacles.


    President Bush and sponsors of the Patient Navigator Outreach and Chronic Disease Prevention Act of 2005.

  • Enter the Patient Navigator Outreach and Chronic Disease Prevention Act of 2005. Which was designed to address these issues, and was signed into law amid great jubilation by the bill’s sponsors and President Bush (see photo), two years ago.
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    One big fat problem: the $25 million authorized by the bill was never funded. That’s right; Congress was happy to approve patient navigators in spirit, but when push came to shove, the dollars went elsewhere. The patient Navigation Act, now two years into its five-year lifespan, has yet to move forward even one inch. And it won’t, until the dollars are voted to fund it.

    Want to put your shoulder to this particular wheel? The Susan G. Komen for the Cure Web site says,  “Ask your members of Congress to support funding for the program -- and add in why you think this is so important! This is your chance to help thousands of people in their greatest time of need, and to make someone else's battle against breast cancer just a little bit easier.” All it takes is a couple of clicks; and if enough of us rattle the Congressional cage, the money might actually, magically –- finally -– appear.
Published On: June 01, 2007