Clearing Hurdles: Program offers low-cost cancer screenings for women

Garrett Neese/Daily Mining Gazette Margaret Helminen, seen at the offices of her company Designotype in Franklin Township, was able to get cancer screenings and treatment at reduced cost through the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Navigation Program.

FRANKLIN TOWNSHIP — When Margaret Helminen first began cancer screenings, she didn’t even have time to worry about cost. The people at the hospital had contacted the Breast and Cervical Cancer Control Navigation Program.

“They knew that was in place, so right away they got all the paperwork started for me,” she said. “I didn’t have to go through that hurdle to think about it. They just took care of it.”

The program helps ensure women can get the screenings and care they need. That includes arranging screenings for breast and cervical cancer, follow-up care for abnormal test results and treatment for those with a positive diagnosis.

Established in 1991, the program had provided screening and diagnostic services for nearly 500,000 women by 2017, according to the BCCNP.

Previously offered in the area by the Western Upper Peninsula Health Department, it is now coordinated out of Escanaba.

Usually, a woman will receive a referral from their provider or the Health Department, said Kristi Steger, Upper Peninsula regional coordinator for the BCCCNP.

“We always look at if she’s eligible, then she can mail the paperwork back to enroll in the program,” she said.

Upper Peninsula-wide numbers were unavailable for 2018, but 58 women had gone through the BCCCNP in Delta and Menomonee counties, Steger said.

To be eligible, women must be between 21 and 64 for cervical cancer, or 40 to 64 for breast cancer. Their income must be less than 250% of the federal poverty level — ranging from $31,225 for a one-person household to $86,475 for a household of six.

Uninsured women who qualify can receive mammograms and Pap tests for free. The program also coveres underinsured women with high deductible. They are able to get screening and/or diagnostic services not paid by their insurance. For instance, mammograms are often covered by insurance, but ultrasounds or biopsies are often applied to their deductible, Steger said.

“We know there are a lot of women who don’t have health insurance, or the premiums are too expensive for them so they’ve opted not to,” Steger said.

If they have been diagnosed, they may also be able to be treated through the BCCCNP Medicaid Treatment Act. That Medicaid program, established in 2001, provides full Medicaid benefits if the woman is eligible for the BCCCNP and MTA. It excludes clients covered under Medicare Part A and B, according to the BCCNP.

Between MTA and the BCCNP, close to 100 percent of Helminen’s treatment was covered. Helminen had to travel to Ann Arbor for some of her treatment. The program paid for her mileage, parking and bridge tolls. Had she not been staying with relatives, it would have also covered lodging, she said.

“They gave me vouchers,” she said. “I just had to fill them out and send them in, and they sent me checks back.”

Now cancer-free, Helminen encouraged anyone due for a screening to check with Steger to see if they’re eligible.

“If they have any questions, she’s very helpful,” she said. “She can answer anything they need to know.”

Women can call Steger at (906) 789-8110 to find out if they’re eligible to receive program services. To contact the state program, call (884) 446-8727.