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Law lowers minimum age for mandatory mammogram coverage

ALBANY — Gov. Andrew M. Cuomo on Friday signed a bill into law that requires most health insurance companies to cover annual mammograms for women as young as 35 to 39 years old when a physician recommends the breast cancer test.

Shannon’s Law lowers the minimum age for mandatory coverage of annual screenings from 40 years old for cases deemed “medically necessary” by a physician. The coverage is also “subject to the insurer’s determination that the mammogram is medically necessary,” according to the measure.

The law is named for Shannon Saturno of Babylon. Saturno was diagnosed with breast cancer at 28 years old. She died at 31 in 2016. The bill was overwhelmingly supported in the State Legislature this year.

Cuomo called early detection “the best possible treatment.”

The law applies to large group policies that provide coverage for hospital care and surgeries as well as other medical care, which is often referred to as blanket coverage. State law already required the screenings for all women with a prior personal or close family history of breast cancer. The law had also already required coverage for a single screening for women 35 to 39 years to create a baseline image.

The American Cancer Society says women should have the choice to start annual mammograms between 40 and 44 years old. But screenings deemed medically necessary by a physician because of family history or other issues have been supported for women who are much younger.

The state Health Department ranks Nassau County seventh in the state for incidents of breast cancer based on age-adjusted rates for 2011-2015, the latest years available. Suffolk County is ranked 17th. Each has more than 1,000 cases a year.

Two Long Island legislators sponsored the bill.

“With 1 in 8 women developing breast cancer in their lifetime, the enactment of this bill is critical to enabling early detection and saving lives,” said State Sen. Monica Martinez (D-Brentwood).

Assemb. Kimberly Jean-Pierre (D-Wheatley Heights) said the law is overdue because women of all ages face breast cancer.

“Far too many young women have lost their lives to breast cancer because of late diagnosis,” Jean-Pierre said. “Lowering the age of covered annual mammogram screenings will ensure women can take action before it’s too late.”

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