Thursday, December 4, 2008

More questions than answers on cancer screening money

The new chair of the Human Services Committee, Rep. John Mizuno, was not happy to hear that $150,000 for cervical and breast cancer screening, and education/awareness programs for at risk populations, would not be made available. The money was appropriated last session through Senate Bill 3185. He called an informational briefing today to find out why.

Finance Chair Marcus Oshiro and Rep. Tom Brower were also there to listen and ask questions.

The screening program is operated by the State Department of Health. The money, located in the Department of Human Services budget, is normally transferred to the Health Department. In November, the Health Department was told that the money would not be released per the recommendations of the Department of Budget and Finance.

It is unclear whether the $150,000 is part of the Governor's 4% restriction currently in effect. There were no representatives from the Department of Human Services to answer questions. However, Rep. Mizuno pulled out SB3185 testimony of Director Lillian Kohler which stated that the Human Services and Health departments signed a memorandum of agreement and therefore, the bill was not needed. The legislature passed the bill anyway.

What's at stake? According to testifiers from the Department of Health and the American Cancer Society of Hawaii, about 100-150 women may be unable to receive cervical and breast cancer screenings. These would be women considered high risk because they fall in the 50-64 year old age category and are most likely of native Hawaiian or Filipino ethnicity.

Early detection saves lives. About 800 women in Hawaii are diagnosed with cancer every year. With early detection, the mortality rate drops from 78% to 23%.

Rep. Mizuno indicated that he will consider introducing legislation in 2009 if it means restoring funds for cancer screening because "it is a priority, and should remain a priority."

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