By Toni G. Atkins
Before I entered public service in the 1990s as an aide to Christine Kehoe — who was then a member of the San Diego City Council — I served as director of clinic services at Womancare Health Center. During that time, I saw firsthand how important it is to provide safety-net healthcare services for people who are uninsured or underinsured and can’t afford medical care.
I myself grew up in a family with no health insurance. I watched my parents worry when someone in the family got sick. So, I understand the ever-present fear that many people feel — fear of how a sudden or chronic illness can cause financial hardship, if not utter devastation.
That’s why I am an unwavering defender of the Affordable Care Act, and why I will continue to press for universal healthcare in California. Until we get there, I will work toward expanding healthcare however I can.
In 2016, Gov. Jerry Brown signed my bill, AB 1795, which served two purposes: It removed the minimum eligibility age for symptomatic women to receive a breast-cancer screening, and it ensured treatment for women who experience a recurrence of cancer, regardless of whether or not it appears in the same part of the body as the first occurrence.
This year, I introduced SB 945, which builds on AB 1795 by removing a third barrier blocking treatment for low-income Californians with breast cancer or cervical cancer. Currently, the Breast and Cervical Cancer Treatment Program caps care for breast cancer at 18 months and care for cervical cancer at 24 months. This means women lose coverage arbitrarily, with no regard for their health status. Those who need additional treatment are left with nowhere to turn.
SB 945 removes these arbitrary limits, allowing the program to continue to treat women as long as necessary. Cancer doesn’t affect everyone the same way. Treatment time can vary dramatically from patient to patient. There is no valid reason to stop providing care while someone still needs it.
I was proud to work closely on AB 1795 with Susan G. Komen, an organization dedicated to dramatically reducing the number of deaths in this country caused by breast cancer, and I am proud to work with Komen again on SB 945. Each of the bills is a life-saving measure positively affecting thousands of California women — as well as men, because men are susceptible to breast cancer, too.
Healthcare advocacy, particularly providing access to care for struggling residents, will always be a priority for me — it’s in my DNA.
I believe healthcare should be a right, just as we view education or public safety — for every San Diegan, every Californian, every American.
With our uninsured rate down to a record-low 7 percent, California has done a good job of expanding access to care, but in addition to those who have no coverage, many people are underinsured, and healthcare costs are still too high.
As the new President pro Tem of the Senate, I will look for any and all ways to keep our residents healthy and ensure peace of mind, at the lowest possible cost to their families.
— Toni G. Atkins represents the 39th District in the California Senate. Follow her on Twitter @SenToniAtkins.