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Measure targets care for breast cancer patients

Thousands of women in Florida are diagnosed with breast cancer each year, but their insurance companies are not required to cover all aspects of treatment.

This year, that may change.

"We need to reach some gender equity on these health care issues," said Rep. Sandra Murman, D-Tampa.

State lawmakers are preparing legislation that would require companies to pay for mastectomies and reconstructive surgery to both breasts for the sake of symmetry, even if only one is malignant.

Currently, companies must offer coverage as an option but can charge additional premiums. Coverage for both breasts often is limited.

The House Health Services Committee is expected to pass the measure when it meets today. During a hearing Monday, Rep. George Albright, R-Ocala, the committee's chairman, called it "must-pass" legislation.

The issue arises as at least 27 other states are considering similar legislation, according to an analysis by the House staff. Outpatient mastectomies are more common, and patient advocates worry that cancer victims are not getting the attention they need.

More than 10,000 women in Florida will be diagnosed this year with breast cancer, and more than 2,600 will die from it, according to the analysis. An estimated 150,000 Floridians are alive today who have been diagnosed with the disease at some point in their lives.

In addition to requiring coverage, the measure would set a minimum amount of time women could stay in the hospital.

The proposal would require insurers to cover surgery on both breasts, even if one is benign, for the sake of symmetry.