NAPLES — Eight young women die of breast cancer every day in the United States.
It’s a chilling reality that isn’t getting the attention it deserves from women and from health care professionals who are supposed to be helping young women stay healthy, said U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz, D-Weston.
She is well on her way toward doing something about that with legislation. She sponsored the Education and Awareness Requires Learning Young Act, which is receiving widespread support in the House. Her co-sponsor in the Senate for the EARLY Act is Sen. Amy Klobuchar, D-Minn.
Wasserman Schultz, of Broward County, was in Southwest Florida on Friday to speak at a luncheon at the Hyatt Regency Coconut Point, sponsored by the Susan G. Komen Foundation of Southwest Florida and the Collier County Chapter of Hadassah.
The legislation, which would direct the Centers for Disease Control to launch a program to educate young women about the risks of breast cancer, has 373 co-sponsors in the House and 34 in the Senate, she said.
“I am not going to rest until we send that bill to President Obama’s desk and he signs it into law,” Wasserman Schultz said.
Wasserman Schultz, 42, was diagnosed with breast cancer two years ago when she did a breast self exam in the shower and found a lump. It was six weeks after her first mammogram came back clear.
She learned that as someone of Ashkenazi Jewish heritage, she was at greater risk of carrying a gene mutation, BRCA1 or BRCA2, that predisposes women to breast cancer. She underwent gene testing and came back positive for BRCA2. She decided to undergo a double mastectomy and have her ovaries removed. She went public this past spring with her breast cancer and her treatment for one year.
“As any breast cancer patient will tell you, it is a time when you feel you have very little control,” she said. “It really just turns your whole perception of yourself upside down.”
Besides directing the CDC to launch an education program for younger women of the risks of breast cancer, including their risks based on ethnicity, the bill would provide grant funding to organizations to help younger women cope with the social and psychological aspects of treatment, including fertility counseling. The bill also aims to educate health-care professionals that younger women are at risk for breast cancer.
“It is often swept under the rug by health-care professionals,” she said. “It just isn’t acknowledged enough that young women are at risk.”
During audience questions, Wasserman Schultz said she believes the language in the House health-care reform bill will be added to address the Stupak amendment that would prevent abortion coverage in the insurance exchange and other restrictions.
“I believe we will fix the language so we are keeping the status quo,” she said.
She said the House bill prevents insurance companies from dropping anyone with pre-existing conditions and would provide stability for people with insurance.
She includes herself as someone who now could suddenly be uninsurable if she lost her job.
There is a 95 to 98 percent likelihood she will not have a reoccurrence of breast cancer, but she would be uninsurable under the current insurance system.
The House bill also would prevent insurance companies from engaging in gender discrimination, where women now pay an average of 48 percent more in premiums, and doctors would have more control over a patient’s length of stay in a hospital, she said. Likewise, the bill would address hospitals’ practice of reducing lengths of stay for the initial admission because it is a factor in driving up readmissions, she said.
“We really are trying to cover everyone and bring down costs,” she said.