WASHINGTON – Grammy-nominated singer-songwriter Jewel braved chilly winds on Capitol Hill Wednesday to voice her support for bipartisan legislation to protect breast cancer patients from “drive-through” mastectomies.
The celebrity flew from her Texas ranch in Stephenville,about 70 miles southwest of Fort Worth,to attend the press conference on behalf of Lifetime Television's “Stop Breast Cancer for Life” campaign.
“This really affects people's lives and their families,” Jewel said. “It's shocking to me that in this day and age,something like this is going on.”
“Drive-through” mastectomies occur when insurance coverage plans impose restrictions that force patients to undergo mastectomies as outpatients – leaving the hospital just hours after having one or both of their breasts removed.
“When they are in pain,rocky from anesthesia,with tubes sewn into their breasts,they are sent home with instructions on how to measure blood and change their dressings,” said Meredith Wagner,Lifetime executive vice president.
The Breast Cancer Patient Protection Act (H.R. 1849) would not mandate a hospital stay,but it would stipulate that a health care provider would have to pay for a up to a 48-hour stay if a patient chose to stay in the hospital. Twenty states have enacted similar legislation.
“Two days of recovery time in the hospital should not be negotiable,” said Rep. Rosa DeLauro,D-Conn.,one of the bill's lead sponsors and an ovarian cancer survivor. “You have to have the professional care you need to begin the healing process and avoid infection and other complications. This legislation would make sure women do not have to fight for that time.”
DeLauro's office was not able to provide statistics for the number of mastectomies identified as “drive-through” procedures. Press secretary Kate Cyrul said she was unsure if official numbers exist.
An American Cancer Society article published on its Web site said a 2005 Canadian study found 41 percent of mastectomy outpatients would have chosen inpatient surgery instead. But the study also found that outpatients reported faster recovery and better psychological adjustment than inpatients.
Alva Williams,a breast cancer survivor from Jacksonville,N.C.,also spoke to the small group about her “drive-through” mastectomy experience. Williams said she was sent home after her operation and developed a bacterial staph infection because her family could not properly empty drainage tubes that hung from her chest to her knees. The infection delayed her chemo therapy by six weeks.
“I really needed expert medical care,especially during the first couple of days following my surgery,” she said. “It's not right for an insurance company to dictate how a physician must treat a patient.”
The health insurance industry disagrees with Lifetime and DeLauro's claims.
“There has been a misconception for a long time between the quantity and the quality of care being delivered,” said Mohit M. Ghose,vice president of public affairs for America's Health Insurance Plans,a national trade association representing 1,300 health insurance companies.
“We continue to see over the last few years,the industry focus on,not the time spent in the hospital,but rather,what constitutes the best way of delivering care targeted to a specific population.”
Ghose said the bill's supporters have no research to support that 48 hours is the optimal time for recovery from the surgery or that being in a hospital was superior to being at home.
“Very often care is worked through on a patient-by-patient basis today,with the leading care physician involved,” he said. “If a particular patient would be better served in the community with family around them,then why not do that?”
Several health organizations support the bill,including the American College of Surgeons,the American Medical Association,the Association of Women's Health,the Oncology Nursing Society,the Society for Women's Health Research and the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation.
DeLauro introduced the bill 10 years ago,but earlier versions stalled in committee. The latest version has 179 bipartisan cosponsors in the House and 17 in the Senate,according to a Lifetime press release,but supporters will have to act quickly to get the bill through Congress before the likely end of the session next week.
“If this bill gets to the floor,I dare anyone to vote against it,” DeLauro said. The bill also would ensure that health care plans cover the treatment most suitable for individual breast cancer patients and a second opinion for any cancer diagnosis.
Lifetime Television began an online petition supporting the bill in 1996 and will distribute compact disks with 12 million signatures,broken down by state,to all members of Congress.
Although she was only introduced to the issue a few months ago,Jewel will appear in Lifetime public service announcements through October,National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. She said luckily none of her family members or close friends has suffered breast cancer,but she has lost a close friend to ovarian cancer.
“I don't think I need to know someone personally to not want them to suffer from a drive-through mastectomy,” she said. “This touches all of our lives.”