Calling All Boobs: Obamacare Covers Pricey New 'Cancer Gene' Tests

If Angelina’s double mastectomy has you thinking about your own cancer prevention options, here’s a heads up.

What Jolie calls her “faulty gene,” BRCA1, is one of two genetic mutations that increase a woman’s chances of having breast and ovarian cancer. Not many people have these kinds of mutations, but for those who do, odds are they’ll develop the disease at some point in their lives.


The good news – a biotech company called Myriad Genetics has an advance screening test that can tell you if you have the “breast cancer genes” BRCA1 or BRCA2 in your genetic makeup, and health care reform is making it possible to get the test for free.

Since March of this year, the Affordable Care Act has required all private health insurance plans to cover the costs of these screening tests for women with high risks of developing breast or ovarian cancer. The Act considers these tests to be key preventative services, so it even demands that insurance companies foot the bill for all related costs including co-pays, deductables, and coinsurance (unless your plan has “grandfathered” status).


A mighty Myriad man at work.

Before March, the decision about whether or not to cover the test was left up to individual insurance companies. Now lots of women with histories of breast cancer in their families can get tested for the faulty genes without worrying about the test’s multi-thousand dollar price tag - these babies can cost as much as $3,500 a pop.

Expensive? YES. Some people really don't like big biotechs like Myriad Genetics for patenting "products of nature" like genes and profiting from their intellectual property rights. But their work helps to save lives, so it's tricky stuff. That's why it's so notable that Obamacare is making this work more accessible.

To be eligible for coverage under the Act, a woman needs to be considered at “high risk” status for breast or ovarian cancer. According to the U.S. Preventitive Services Task Force, high risk means:

  • you have two first-degree relatives (mother, sisters) who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer - especially if one developed the disease before age 50, OR
  • you have three second-degree relatives (grandmothers, aunts) who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer at any age, OR
  • you’re an Ashkenazi Jewish women with cancer in your immediate family, OR
  • you have two first or second-degree relatives who’ve been diagnosed with ovarian cancer, OR
  • you have a male relative who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer

If any of those apply to you, you could be a candidate for the screening test, free of charge thanks to health care reform. Your doctor can give you more info if you want to go for it. Having this knowledge about your body – especially if you can get it for free, holla – can help you make better-informed choices about your own health. And there are few things we feminists love more than choice.


Thanks to Yahoo!News, Business Insider photos via The Guardian and NewMoney.

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