When 26-year-old Raymond Johnson checked himself into the emergency room last month for a throbbing pain in his chest, the diagnosis shocked him. He had breast cancer. What came after that was an equally traumatizing blow. He was denied the Medicaid program that covers breast cancer treatment -- because he's a man.
In order to qualify for the breast cancer program (the Breast and Cervical Cancer Prevention and Treatment Act of 2000), one must meet a litany of eligibility requirements -- all of which Johnson met, save for one. See, in order to receive the coverage, one's cancer must be diagnosed by an "early detection" program funded by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. In South Carolina, where Raymond lives, this screening program is only offered to women between the ages of 47 and 64. In other words, since men don't qualify for the early screening program, they're not covered by the cancer treatment act.
Does anyone else see a problem with this system?
Actually, yes. The state Medicaid agency agrees. The department called the federal policy "discriminatory" and for at least the second time in two years is calling on the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services to change it. They said in a statement:
We are again urging CMS to reconsider. It's a very clear example of how overly rigid federal regulations don't serve the interests of the people we're supposed to be helping.
I lost someone very near and dear to me to this awful disease, so my heart aches a little harder when I hear about someone diagnosed with it. But when I hear of people who can't get proper treatment or coverage, my blood boils. My mother's battle with cancer wasn't a long one -- and it certainly wasn't a pretty one -- but there was never a time when coverage or money was an issue for her and our family. She had good insurance, so we were always comfortable with the care she was receiving. That should be the case for everyone in this country.
In addition to the emotional and physical pain Raymond is going to experience while battling this disease (not to mention, most likely, a small sense of embarrassment for being diagnosed with a "female disease"), he's going to have to deal with financial troubles as well. It's going to be an non-stop uphill red tape battle for him all because he was born a man.
I am fully aware that breast cancer is predominantly a "woman's disease," but the fact is, 2,140 men are diagnosed with it each year. They should be covered as well, because, as Raymond himself eloquently put it, "Cancer doesn't discriminate, so this program shouldn't discriminate."
Do you think Raymond should be covered?
Image via TerryJohnston/Flickr