Free breast, cervical exams threatened as state budget wrangling continues

  • By Alex Parker
  • Staff Writer
  • June 19, 2009 @ 7:00 AM

If state legislators buck Gov. Pat Quinn’s call for an income tax hike, the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program stands to lose millions and would be forced to slash more than half of its services to uninsured women, advocates say.

The program gives more than 36,000 uninsured women free access to care and treatment, with one-third of those women from Chicago.

"This is a huge deal. It would be a disaster for women," says Dr. David Ansell, chief medical officer at Rush University Medical Center, and chairman of the Metropolitan Chicago Breast Cancer Task Force.

"We know that mammograms save lives, and to do this really would be destructive to the collective efforts of all the breast cancer organizations in Illinois, and a slap in the face to women," he says. "The IBCCP is an absolutely necessary safety net program. What this means is that women will die."

He says if the program is cut, many women will not seek out screening or may delay treatment for breast and cervical cancer.

The breast and cervical cancer program, like many others, faces potential cuts as state lawmakers wrangle with the governor over the state budget for the fiscal year that begins July 1.

Quinn has been pushing a state income tax increase but so far lawmakers have balked, approving a budget that the governor says falls short of what the state needs for social services and other programs. In turn, some lawmakers object to what they consider to be threats by Quinn to make significant cuts.

“If this is the budget that stands, we’re really going to have to figure out how to move forward,” says Shannon Lightner, deputy director of the Illinois Department of Public Health. “I think the cuts would be pretty devastating.”

She says the breast and cervical cancer program stands to lose $9 million.

The program, funded by state and federal funds, gives free breast screenings and mammograms for women over 40, and cervical exams for women over 35. Some women are eligible for cancer treatment. Lightner says she expects more than 38,000 women to take advantage of the program next year.

But that could change if the income tax hike fails. Lightner says the program would be forced to eliminate service to more than 21,000 women.

“It is a huge concern. This isn’t the budget we wanted,” Lightner says.

When news of the budget’s implications came through, Lightner says IDPH and the Office of Women’s Help immediately asked the federal government for more funds, but were told there was no more money left.

As Quinn battles with legislators to push through the income tax hike, millions of dollars destined for health and human services programs hang in the balance. Mental health services, programs for the elderly, drug treatment, child care and more would be affected.

Quinn is calling legislators back to Springfield next week, hoping to resolve the budget, though an agreement may be far off. Republican legislators are calling more reforms in the state pension and health care programs before they agree to an income tax hike.

 

Daily News Staff Writer Alex Parker covers public health. He can be reached at 773.362.5002, ext. 17, or alex [at] chitowndailynews [dot] org.

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