Mammogram Wait Times Better Than Expected, Nadler Bill to Will Require Insurers to Cover Screening Mammography and MRI

City Hall, October 25th, 2009 – As part of the continued effort in fighting the battle against breast cancer, City Council Speaker Christine C. Quinn, together with Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Chairperson of the Women’s Committee, Helen Sears, Chairperson of the Health Committee, Joel Rivera and Council Members today unveiled a citywide comprehensive report ‘Access to Mammography in New York City’: Facility Wait Times, Locations and Proximity to Transportation’ which details New York City’s women’s access to screening mammograms. The report reveals wait times are shorter than expected, and that facilities with longer wait times are referring women to other facilities where they can be seen sooner. While this is good news, this report also discloses some challenges that some mammogram facilities faced. The American Cancer Society was present for today’s announcement.

This report also highlighted the need for the Mammogram and MRI Availability Act (H.R. 995), sponsored by Congressman Nadler. If passed, the legislation would extend health insurance coverage to include annual screening mammograms for women age 40 and over as well as annual screenings and magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) for women at high risk of developing breast cancer. Currently, annual screening mammograms, are covered under Medicare and Medicaid but many private insurers cover only diagnostic mammograms, the type of mammography used to confirm the presence of a tumor only after it has been detected.

“I was very pleased to discover that mammogram rates in New York City have increased to nearly 78 percent,” said Speaker Christine C. Quinn. “This indicates shows that many women are getting the message loud and clear that they should be getting screening mammograms.” “However, for those that have hit a roadblock in getting screened, I want to continue to encourage women to get that exam. There are great facilities in this city that will see women regardless of your ability to pay. Thanks to Congressman Nadler, Congresswoman Velasquez, Congressman Crowely, the American Cancer Society, the Susan G. Komen Foundation, the American Italian Cancer Foundation and my Council colleagues for their support and for tireless working on getting message out to New York City’s women on the importance of getting screened for breast cancer.”

“When it comes to breast cancer, it is very clear that prevention is often the difference between life and death,” said Rep. Nadler. “While Speaker Quinn’s report tells us that New York women are, by and large, receiving routine mammograms, we must make sure that no women slip through the cracks. One’s access to preventive care should NEVER depend on income or geography, and screening mammography and MRI should be available to everyone who is at risk. As we wait to find a cure for breast cancer, ensuring coverage for mammograms and MRI could mean tremendous benefit for thousands of women. I urge passage of my bill, the Mammogram and MRI Availability Act.”

“It is imperative that women get a mammogram screening as part of their overall health checkup,” said City Council Member Joel Rivera and Chair of the Health Committee. “This report is encouraging that women can go get a mammogram appointment quickly at our city’s public and private facilities. Congressman’s Nadler’s bill will also push to help get more women screened and I want to thank him for being a fighter for women’s health.”

“As we all know breast cancer is one of the few leading causes of death in women and it kills over a thousand of our New York City women every year,” said Council Member Helen Sears, Chair of Women’s Committee. “These numbers are too high and while this report shows that the our city’s facilities have improved in helping getting that message out to women more needs to be done so that all women, regardless of whether or not they can afford it, can get screened. I want to thank the Speaker for this report, to the Congressman for his bill and to my colleagues for their support in women’s health.”

“This report is an indispensible roadmap to a goal we all share – eliminating all barriers between women and the mammograms they need to ensure their health,” said Council Member James Gennaro. “I thank Speaker Quinn, my colleagues in government, and our indefatigable partners in the women’s health advocacy community for this significant achievement. I look forward to achieving other milestones in the advancement of women’s health.”

“The American Cancer Society is inspired by the findings of the report, but our work is far from over,” said Dr. Clare Bradley, Chief Medical Officer, American Cancer Society of New York and New Jersey. “We know that if women do not get mammograms lives will be lost. That is why the American Cancer Society strongly urges women age 40 and older to have a yearly mammogram. We appreciate all of the hard work of Speaker Quinn and Congressman Nadler have done to reduce barriers to screening and in spreading the word that mammograms save lives.”

Overall, mammogram wait times citywide are better than what was previously thought. After calling mammogram providers throughout the five boroughs, researchers found that the average wait time was 2.6 weeks and 59 percent of facilities were able to schedule and appointment within one week. Moreover, half of the facilities that had long wait times of over four weeks were willing to refer patients elsewhere. One contributing factor into shorter wait times is that many facilities offer night and weekend appointments.

Wait Times and Availability of Extended Hours
Facility Wait Time Percent Offering Evening Hrs Percent Offering Weekend Hrs
Within One Week 40.3 54.8
1 to 2 weeks 54.5 54.5
2 to 4 weeks 33.3 50.0
Over 4 weeks 28.6 28.6

Although citywide wait times for mammogram screenings are encouraging, several facilities still struggle with providing timely care. Many providers cite low reimbursement rates for their inability to adequately staff and equip their facilities. With higher reimbursements, they would be able to purchase digital mammogram machines and hire additional staff for evening and weekend hours.

The report addresses one additional potential deterrent in obtaining mammograms: transportation. Specifically, the study analyzes whether the mammogram rate in some United Hospital Fund (UHF) neighborhoods is lower due to a lack of public transportation. Citywide, there seems to be no consistent pattern between subway access and neighborhood mammogram rates. However, UHF neighborhoods might be too large to accurately rule out any relationship as some areas of the neighborhoods are within walking distance to the subway but others are not. The report recommends future research into this question.

The officials detailed a number of recommendations made in the report. Among the recommendations:

•More facilities should offer weekend appointments in order to address those mammogram sites that have longer waiting times than others. This will help alleviate the need for women with weekday work schedules to take time off from work.

•Increasing reimbursement rates and passing Congressman Nadler’s bill to ensure all insurance plans cover screening mammograms.

• Funding for digital mammogram machinery should be a priority.

•Further research transportation access and mammogram rates.

Health officials recommend that women 40 years and older have a mammography once every 1-2 years, with specific recommendations to be determined by the woman’s doctor. For information on how to get a free or low cost screening call 311 or visit