A checks-and-balances kind of thing…

Assembly Budget Committee Chair Noreen Evans (D) and others assailed the administration Monday for making cuts to a breast cancer screening program for low-income women against the Legislature’s wishes.

The Department of Public Health in December decided to reduce access to the “Every Woman Counts” early detection program by freezing enrollment until June 2010, and limiting enrollment to only women 50 and older.

For the past decade, the program had offered annual breast cancer screening to low-income women who lacked health insurance and were at least 40 years old. Statewide, 1.2 million are eligible for the program through about 1,000 locations, including community health clinics. The program served 249,000 in fiscal year 2006-2007; 270,000 in fiscal year 2007-2008 and then 310,000 in 2008-2009.

With the demand increasing, however, the Schwarzenegger Administration decided to shift some EWC funding to other programs, thus freeing up some money to help plug the growing budget deficit. This was done even though the Legislature had rejected the cutbacks outlined by the administration during budget negotiations after the governor submitted his May spending-plan revision.

At a hearing well-attended by breast cancer survivors and supporters, an irked Evans told bureaucrats that “It’s unacceptable to me that these screenings won’t take place…In my opinion, we’ve had way too much testosterone in the budget talks….and enough of the macho knife-waving, alpha-male politicians in the process. How many Californians will have to die for budget negotiators to see it’s time for us to grow up?”

Despite having been told by Evans that the planned program cutbacks would not be approved by the Legislature, the Department of Public Health “suddenly and surprisingly changed” the program, Evans said.

Assemblyman Hector de la Torre (D) added, “The administration is not allowed to run around making unilateral decisions. There is a checks-and-balances thing going on here.”

A round of applause broke out in the hearing room after Assemblyman Sandre Swanson (D) said the cutbacks in services would cause greater expenditures in the final analysis, as women get sicker and require extensive treatment. “You’re just shoving these costs off onto other programs – and you are costing lives, too.”

Several medical experts and community providers testified that women who are diagnosed with breast cancer in their 40s are more likely to have aggressive forms of the disease and therefore need early detection to survive. Many also testified that the age-group accessing services through Every Woman Counts are more likely to be women of color with few economic resources.

The hearing came after a bake sale held by Evans, other legislators and breast cancer awareness representatives to raise money and awareness about the program cutbacks. Following the hearing, a large rally was held outside, where several other legislators, including Senate President Pro Tem Darrell Steinberg, declared their opposition to the cuts and support for restoring the program. The rally ended with the Capitol being bathed in pink light, a color of significance for breast cancer survivors. Meanwhile, two bills — with a third likely to come — have been proposed to reinstate the program, Evans said.

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