Tests, treatment can be costly, but there's help available


Published: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 1:00 p.m.
Last Modified: Sunday, October 7, 2012 at 1:00 p.m.

If a woman has private health insurance or is covered by Medicare, she most likely has no problem following the American Cancer Society's recommendations for early breast cancer detection. Women in their 20s and 30s are urged to get a clinical breast exam every three years as part of a periodic health exam. Healthy women age 40 and older are advised to have a mammogram every year.

Facts

RESOURCES

Alachua County Resources
Park Avenue Imaging Center (diagnostic imaging center for UF and Shands Breast Center), 919 NW 57th St., Gainesville, 265-0000, https://ufandshands.org/park-avenue-imaging-center
Alachua County Health Department: Gainesville clinic, 224 SE 24th St., 334-7910; Alachua clinic: 15530 NW U.S. 441, Suite 10010, 386-462-2542
American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, Alachua County Unit, 376-6866

Marion County Resources
Advanced Imaging Centers, Ocala Health System, www.OcalaHealthSystem.com/ai, 867-9606
Radiology Associates of Ocala, Women's Imaging Center, 1901 SE 18th Ave., Ocala, www.raocala.com, 671-4300
Michelle-O-Gram, 469-6006
Marion County Health Department, 1801 SE 32nd Ave., Ocala, 629-0137
American Cancer Society, www.cancer.org, Marion County Unit, 629-4727

Under the Affordable Care Act, these exams (as well as other preventative health care procedures) are covered by most private health insurance plans and by Medicare, without co-pays.

But what about women who do not have health care coverage? What about women in Alachua and Marion counties who aren't poor enough to qualify for low-income health care programs such as Medicaid or “We Care”? These women must pay out-of-pocket for all their health care needs.

Often, many such women simply do not get the tests or treatments they need, said Sherry Roberts, co-founder of Michelle-O-Gram, a Marion County-based program that helps women pay for mammograms. “They just can't afford them.”

“Right now, in this economic time, I'm getting an average of six calls per day from women who need assistance,” Roberts said. “Many of them have always had health insurance in the past, so it's really difficult for them to ask for help.”

Depending on the type of testing needed, Roberts noted, a self-pay mammogram can cost nearly $300. And that doesn't include the cost of seeing a primary care physician or gynecologist, who would typically refer a woman to a mammography center. Roberts said she advises uninsured women who cannot afford primary medical care to contact their local health department.

Many mammography centers, however, do not require a doctor's referral, especially for self-pay clients, who do not need the referral for insurance purposes.

Park Avenue Imaging Center in Gainesville, which is the diagnostic imaging center for the University of Florida and Shands Breast Center, for example, offers mammogram appointments directly to Alachua County women, without physician referrals.

In Marion County, Ocala Health Systems' Advanced Imaging Centers schedule mammogram appointments without a doctor's referral. And during the month of October, both locations are offering self-pay patients the special price of $179 for a diagnostic mammogram.

“Our goal is to get as many women screened as we can,” said Ocala Health System spokeswoman Suzanne Santangelo.

Offering the discounted rate is just a part of the system's second annual “Standing Up To Breast Cancer” campaign. Also, flamingo lawn ornaments are being offered to the public for a $10 donation each. Supporters are encouraged to get creative with the plastic pink birds and share their stories on Ocala Health System's Facebook page, www.Facebook.com/OcalaHealth. Proceeds from the campaign will be donated to Michelle-O-Gram.

Radiology Associates of Ocala also is offering screening mammograms to self-pay patients at a discounted price of $189 during October. And, starting Oct. 16, The Women's Imaging Center will offer extended hours, from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. the third Tuesday of every month. In addition to offering mammograms, guest providers such as nutritionists and massage therapists will be on hand, and refreshments will be served during the extended hours.

Linda Koontz, director of the newly formed Marion County Cancer Alliance, said she was impressed to learn of local imaging centers giving discounts during October.

“Women who have been waiting to make that important call, may just pick up the phone — I did,” said Koontz.

“Suddenly, monitoring our breast health becomes something we can manage, budget for, provide for ourselves or give as a gift,” she added.

If a mammogram shows abnormal results, noted Hayley Creasey, Ocala Health System's oncology service line director, a woman is referred to her primary care physician or gynecologist. That way, the provider and patient can decide the next best step, whether it be to obtain a breast ultrasound, biopsy or other testing, she said.

If a diagnosis for breast cancer is reached, the main types of treatment used today, according to the American Cancer Society, are surgery, radiation therapy, chemotherapy, hormone therapy, targeted therapy and bone-directed therapy. The out-of-pocket costs will vary depending on a variety of factors, but “there are options out there,” said Traci Mason, executive director of the Marion County unit of the American Cancer Society.

She recommends that women who need help finding options call either the American Cancer Society's 1-800 number or their local unit.

“The American Cancer Society can help women navigate through the Medicaid or Medicare process, and has a collection of other resources, such as the Mary Brogan Breast and Cervical Cancer program, which was funded through the Florida Legislature this past session, and the Michelle-O-Gram program and also low-cost options that are offered,” she said.

She added that the American Cancer Society also has support programs for women, such as “Road to Recovery,” a volunteer program that gets patients to their treatments. For more information, call 1-800-227-2345 or visit www.cancer.org.

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