InsureBlog’s Hank Stern has written about the new DNA test that is more effective than Pap smears in the detection of cervical cancer (specifically, it tests for HPV, which causes cervical cancer).
He made a great point about cost savings: if the new test can be done less frequently than Paps, it could result in an overall cost reduction for women’s healthcare. Perhaps this could put a dent in the difference between the premiums men and women pay for health insurance…
I wasn’t aware until I read Hank’s article that 50 years ago, cervical cancer was the leading cause of death for American women. Now it accounts for about 4000 deaths a year. With early detection through Paps responsible for the drop in deaths from cervical cancer, I’m curious as to what percentage of the 4000 women who die from cervical cancer each year are low income and/or uninsured? Most women who have health insurance typically have fairly good coverage for Paps (those of us with HSA-qualified plans often have 100% coverage for Paps, before the deductible). And having health insurance can literally be a life saver if the Pap happens to find abnormal cells.
Planned Parenthood and local health clinics that cater to the uninsured population can provide low cost Paps, but my guess is that uninsured women probably don’t get them with the same regularity as women who know that their health insurance policy will be picking up the tab. And if the test does detect problems, the financial burden will be steep for women who don’t have health insurance.
For low income women, simply getting time off work to go to the doctor for a screening test can be tough. When you’re working three jobs to make ends meet, it doesn’t leave a lot of room in the day for scheduling a Pap. Things like arranging child care, securing transportation, and paying for the treatment can be hurdles that might cause some women to simply skip the test. So while the DNA test sounds like a great alternative to the Pap, it will probably be an especially good alternative for women who are uninsured or who struggle for one reason or another to make it to an annual Pap appointment.
I found Hank’s article in the Cavalcade of Risk, hosted this week at My Wealth Builder.