Millions of women who currently lack access to preventive care will become insured under the law, giving them access to other screening exams such as the Pap test as well, the researchers said.
A group from George Washington University created a model based on the results of Massachusetts' health reform initiative to estimate the number of low-income women in the U.S. who would become insured if the new federal health reform law is fully implemented (Preventing Chronic Disease, October 25, 2012).
The results showed that an estimated 6.8 million low-income women ages 18 to 64 would become insured under the law. They estimated that about 500,000 more women a year would be screened for mammography in 2014, and an additional 1.3 million would obtain Pap tests to screen for cervical cancer.
"We estimated that the increase in demand for breast cancer screening will increase by an additional 500,000 women in the first year of [Affordable Care Act] implementation and by as many as 1 million more over two years," the authors wrote.
Nevertheless, they cautioned, millions of women in each state are expected to remain uninsured and will still require the services of the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program (NBCCEDP) for screening. However, the grant-funded program has never had sufficient funds to cover all of the uninsured, and the underfunding will likely remain.
On the positive side, the major gains in early detection in a broad swath of the newly insured population could result in faster treatment and better outcomes for women nationwide, after a decade during which women's cancer screening rates have remained stagnant, said study co-author Leighton Ku, PhD, director of the Center for Health Policy Research at George Washington University School of Public Health and Health Services.