When I was 23, I felt a lump in my left breast. Terrified, I went to the doctor and scheduled a series of appointments, including an X-ray exam. After weeks of worrying, I learned the lump was a simple cyst, not uncommon in people with breasts.
I wasn't making much money at the time, and the cost of the X-ray (a couple hundred dollars) seemed like a massive sum. But things would have been worse if I didn't have insurance. I sometimes wonder if I would have even gone if I didn't have Covered California, which footed most of the bill and covered preventive care, like mammograms. Probably not.
My dilemma wasn't singular to me, either. According to Health, a new study from Cancer Epidemiology found that doctors diagnosed more people with breast cancer in stage 1 since the Affordable Care Act (ACA) was enacted into law in 2011. By catching the cancer in such an early stage, doctors can help "improve patients' prognosis and reduce the need for intensive and costly treatments," Health.com writes.
The study suggests that because the ACA eliminates copayments for preventive services, such as mammograms and cervical cancer screenings, more women were encouraged to get checkups.
"It's really exciting and shows the kind of impact this legislation can have for good," the study's lead author Abigail Silva, PhD, an assistant professor of public health sciences at Loyola University Chicago Stritch School of Medicine, told Health.
Each of the 470,000 breast cancer patients studied, aged 50 to 74, had either private insurance or Medicare and had been diagnosed with the disease either before the ACA was enacted or shortly after.
Researchers found that "between those two time periods, the percentage of breast cancers diagnosed in state 1 increased 3.6 percentage points, from 54.4% to 48%" and discovered "a corresponding decline in stage 2 and stage 3 diagnoses," according to Health.
Many women have shared their stories on Twitter with the hashtags #HowTheACASavedMyLife and #AmericaSpeaksOut, and we've included a couple of the tweets below.
Additionally, the study found that the number of Latina and African-American women who received stage 1 diagnoses increased at the highest rate. The news was a welcomed surprise to Silva, who told Health that treating patients with stage 1 cancer can be drastically different than treating those in stage 2.
"In stage 2, it means the cancer has started to spread beyond the breast, to the lymph nodes for example," Silva said. "In that case a woman might need chemotherapy, which involves longer periods of time and more side effects and out-of-pocket costs than, say, the surgery and maybe radiation she'd need for stage 1."
The study comes out at important time, when the Senate Republicans are working tirelessly to strip millions — the Congressional Budget Office estimates that around 22 million people would be without insurance by 2026 if the healthcare bill is passed — of coverage. Though the majority of Americans seem to disapprove of the bill, the GOP has remained diligent in crafting something that will undoubtedly kill people while plumping the wallets of wealthy lobbyists and businessmen.