By Wendy C. Wolf

One simple test could end up saving thousands of women’s lives. Yet, for those without health insurance, the test comes too late. According to the American Cancer Society, this year alone an estimated 40,170 women will lose their lives to breast cancer. Meanwhile, it is estimated that 4,000 breast cancer deaths could be prevented just by increasing the percentage of women who receive breast cancer screenings to 90 percent.

Breast cancer often can be treated with early detection. That's why health insurance that pays for mammograms is especially important. But mammography rates declined between 2003 and 2005, with a notable decrease for Hispanic women (from 65 percent to 59 percent) and African-American women (from 70 percent to 65 percent). An estimated one in five women over 50 has not received a mammogram in the past two years.

Everyone needs health insurance to keep healthy, yet women are disproportionately underinsured. An estimated 21 million women and girls went without health insurance in 2007, according to the U.S. Census Bureau. And a recent congressional report found that 18 percent of all women not eligible for Medicare are uninsured, which translates to 28 percent of 19 to 24 year olds and 26 percent of single mothers without insurance.

Why are so many women left uncovered? Perhaps it’s because many medical situations faced by women are treated as pre-existing conditions, including breast cancer. The National Cancer Institute estimated that in 2004 approximately 2.4 million women had a history of breast cancer. But without continuing coverage, cancer survivors face steep risks.

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