LAKE CHARLES, LA (KPLC) - It is a first-of-its kind effort in the Southwest Louisiana community to change the state's mortality rate connected to breast cancer.
The cost of critical screenings will no longer be a hindrance for uninsured or underinsured women, thanks to a partnership between CHRISTUS St. Patrick Hospital Women's Health Center and the Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program.
Oncology nurse manager, Michele Hurley, says the cost of mammograms for uninsured women or those with lower incomes can be a hindrance in getting one.
"Louisiana has the 33rd highest incidence of breast cancer, but we have the second highest mortality rate," said Hurley.
In a big move to change those statistics, the Louisiana Breast and Cervical Health Program was launched, providing free mammograms and pap tests to women.
CHRISTUS-St. Patrick Women's Health Center began offering free mammograms to eligible women last fall - those who are uninsured or at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level.
"It covers all breast services related to screening and diagnosis, whether that would be a screening mammogram or if they felt a lump, a diagnostic mammogram," said Hurley. "If they need a biopsy, that's also covered."
That is exactly what Ann Williams of Lake Charles needed: a mammogram and a biopsy.
The bill would have been about $1,500, but Williams became the first woman in this region to qualify for the free service.
"It was a relief not having to be responsible for the bill," said Williams. "That took away a lot of stress."
Williams says she would have put off this screening because of the high price.
Eligible women will get more than a free mammogram. Hurley says her team works with them to overcome hindrances that could impact their healthcare.
"Make sure that any barriers that are there, if it's transportation or knowledge, anything like that, that we can help them while they're here," said Hurley.
For Williams, she is a walking testimony today to other women:
"I tell them my story and just suggest that they call the hospital to find out if they qualify," she said.
You do not have to live in Lake Charles to qualify for the program. It is open to Louisiana women who meet eligibility requirements.
The basic requirements are:
- Ages 50+: Mammogram every one to two years (40 years old for those with problems)
- Uninsured or underinsured
- Income at or below 250 percent of the federal poverty level