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Free Mammograms Are Not Without Costs To Low Income Women

March 22, 2017

“Free” Mammograms are Not Without Costs to Low Income Women

Low-income women who receive free mammography screening still shoulder some personal costs to have the procedure — which may help explain continuing disparities in breast cancer screening, results of a U.S. government study suggest. In the U.S., a federally funded project called the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program covers the costs of breast cancer and cervical cancer screening tests for women who are at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty line.

However, research indicates that only 13 percent of women who are eligible for mammograms under the program actually get one — a shortfall that is likely contributing to the ongoing mammography gap between insured and uninsured U.S. women.

One potential reason that eligible women are not getting mammograms under the federal program is that despite the fact that the test is free, women still incur personal costs, including the costs of transportation or child care, as well as lost wages from taking time off from work.

In the new study, researchers at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention tried to estimate what those costs might be for the typical low-income woman.

Using survey data from 1,870 women who participated in the screening program, the researchers found that for women with an annual income of less than $10,000, the personal cost of one mammogram was $17, on average. The cost of 10 screenings over the years would be about $108, while 25 screenings would amount to $262.

Those figures were all higher for women earning between $10,000 and $20,000 per year — with a one-time screening costing $31 and 25 screenings costing $475.

These numbers might seem modest, but for a low-income woman, they “could be substantial,” Dr. Donatus U. Ekwueme and colleagues write in the journal Cancer.

Policymakers are considering expanding the cancer screening program. But as they do, Ekwueme’s team writes, “they should also develop strategies to offset personal costs incurred by participants.”

In general, experts recommend that women have a mammogram every one to two years, beginning at the age of 40.

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