Gov. Blagojevich announces expansion of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program
The $50 million needed to cover the annual costs of providing free cancer screenings and treatment to uninsured women will come from the governor’s amendatory vetoes of what he called "pork barrel projects for legislators."
Gov. Rod Blagojevich on Thursday announced in Peoria an expansion of the Illinois Breast and Cervical Cancer Program (IBCCP), making Illinois the first state to ensure all women access to free screenings and treatment to reduce breast and cervical cancer mortalities. The expanded program begins Monday — also the kickoff off Breast Cancer Awareness Month — and will affect 260,000 women who are uninsured.
The "Take Charge, Get Screened" campaign was made possible, Blagojevich said, through his vetoes of $141 million in member initiatives. There are several ways the money could be reinstated, including if both the House and Senate override them in next week’s veto session.
Blagojevich said that’s not going to happen. Senate President Emil Jones promised publicly not to bring the vetoes for a vote and, when it comes to health care, Blagojevich said he has the flexibility to direct money where he wants.
"I dare the state legislature to take this one away," Blagojevich said.
"… I still have the spending authority as the governor and whether they’re there or not, I simply choose to spend the money on mammograms for women instead of pork barrel projects for legislators."
In addition to Thursday’s stop at the Heartland Community Health Clinic, where he was flanked by cancer survivors, state Sen. Dave Koehler, D-Peoria, former state Sen. George Shadid, representatives from the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation, American Cancer Society of Illinois and more, Blagojevich made several stops throughout the state to urge women to take advantage of the expanded program.
Under the program, uninsured women between 35 and 64 will be able to get free pelvic exams and Pap tests any uninsured woman older than 40 can get free breast exams. It also will provide mammograms and breast exams for the uninsured between 40 and 64.
"… In spite of the expansions in programs like these, there are still more than a quarter of a million across our state who can’t see a doctor because they don’t have health insurance — 47 million Americans don’t have health insurance," Blagojevich said. "It isn’t right, it isn’t fair and it’s not the way health care is supposed to be."
Previously in Illinois, uninsured women only qualified if their incomes were under about $52,000 a year for a family of four.
Ursula Webster was one of those women. Originally from Germany, she moved with her husband from Florida to Peoria in 2000 with no insurance and little money and learned about the program.
"I thought how am I going to get my breast and cancer screening taken care of?" Webster said, adding she now has health insurance and no longer needs the program.
"Now that it is not even based on income I think that really opens up the possibility for everyone to get screened. There’s just no reason for a woman not to."
Carol Holford found a lump on her breast five years ago. She was uninsured and had no place to go until she learned of the program; it prompted her to join the Heartland Clinic’s board of directors.
"If it weren’t for that program, I don’t know what I’d do. When you are facing breast cancer, it’s scary," Holford said. "I didn’t have to pay a dime. That’s the scary part for women when you know you must get something taken care of but don’t know how you’re going to pay for it."
Karen McDonald can be reached at (309) 686-3285 or firstname.lastname@example.org.