Physicians would be required to inform women who have extreme breast density, a condition that masks potential cancerous tumors in mammograms, under a bill approved by both chambers on the final day of the legislative session Friday.
The legislation now goes to Gov. Jerry Brown’s desk.
The bill, SB 791, (previously SB 173) had been bottled up in the Appropriations committee after heavy lobbying by the California Medical Association and other medical provider groups. It didn’t look good. It appeared as if the power play of a Capitol heavyweight would prevail despite overwhelming support at every stage of the bill’s path through the Legislature.
But Sen. Joe Simitian, D-Palo Alto, made some changes that satisfied Assembly Speaker John Perez, D-Los Angeles, and it sailed through the Assembly, 57-6, and, later, in the Senate, 35-1, Friday, the latter vote after midnight.
“It’s two sentences that can save thousands of lives,” Simitian said.
The issue became a flashpoint for supporters, who learned of the story of Amy Colton in a story I wrote last week. Colton had taken mammograms for seven years, reassured each year that her results were fine, until she was told she had an advanced case of breast cancer. Colton later learned that she had extreme breast density, which is known to mask the readings of mammograms.
She also learned that her doctor and radiologist knew of her condition but never told her.
“It took my breath away,” Colton told me.
After the vote was taken at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, Colton wrote me in an email, “unbelievable!!!!!!!”
“I’m THRILLED that the California legislature has demonstrated their overwhelming support of breast density notification,” Colton wrote to me. “Armed with this information women will be able to make fully informed decisions regarding their breast health. Senator Joe Simitian is to be commended for his herculean, successful effort to move this bill forward!”
Simitian said his office received a flood of calls in support of the legislation and forwarded them to Perez’ office all week.
The California Medical Association remained opposed, and leaned on a physician in the Assembly, Linda Halderman, R-Fresno, to argue their case.
“In my practice, I couldn’t offer tests wtihout paying for them myself — MediCal didn’t pay for it,” Halderman, who added that she had to shut down her practice partly because of costs she had to cover to provide patients with ultra sound tests of women with dense breast tissue.
“This is not ready, this is not the place to practice medicine,” Halderman said.
Halderman said that the legislation would increase liabilities for doctors, which would lead to a rise in biopsies, hence more complications.
Assemblywoman Holly Mitchell, D-Los Angeles, said that it is “important that women be given information and the tools they need to partner with their physicians. To argue women can’t manage information about their own bodies, that they’ll overreact with too many procedures, is insulting.”