Here’s How Hard It Is To Get A Mammogram In America

I’ve been trying to get my boobs squished between two plates of glass for over a year

After the House GOP pulled its nearly universally reviled proposed replacement for the Affordable Care Act, I confess I celebrated. There was really nothing of merit to the plan.

Yet we can’t forget that our health care system remains deeply flawed, especially for women, and I should know: I’ve spent the last year trying and failing to get a mammogram.

It’s not that I revel in the idea of having my breasts smashed between two unyielding plates of glass. I’m actually not looking forward to this appointment whatsoever. But, given that I am (a) over 40 years of age, (b) have a family history of breast cancer, (c) know my own mother’s cancer was caught by a regular annual screening, and (d) have an odd spot on my left breast my doctor would like to keep tabs on, I’ve gotten into the habit of having the procedure done twice a year.

[quote position="left" is_quote="true"]I have stellar insurance and an odd spot on my left breast.[/quote]

But right now, despite having what’s widely considered stellar health insurance that would happily cover the vast majority of the costs associated with these procedures, I cannot get an appointment. Let me explain.

I was scheduled for my ordered mammogram about 14 months ago. It took a few months to get the appointment, even with my history, but, in my experience, that is par for the course. Unfortunately, I had to cancel that appointment the week before because of an unexpected work trip. Luckily, the nice folks at the facility penciled me in for an appointment about 10 days later.

Little did I know, it would be 10 days too late. I went to my appointment, only to learn that the order for the mammogram had expired. The woman at the front desk apologized profusely, but they would not be able to offer me the procedure that day. Instead, she sent me home with the instructions to call my gynecologist for a new order and told me to immediately call the main scheduling line to book a new appointment. Never mind the fact that gynecology and radiology are literally just two hallways down from one another at the facility. They apparently can’t talk to one another. It would have to be done by phone.

I tend to at least try to follow instructions when it comes to my health, so I did exactly as directed. But, alas, I would soon learn that a phone call would not do the trick. My OB-GYN could not update my mammogram order. Unfortunately, it had been too long since my last “well-woman” exam. A new order would be impossible unless I came in for another old-fashioned, touchy-feely breast exam. The nurse was sorry, but the system simply wouldn’t allow it. Would it be too much trouble to come back in for a 10-minute visit?

It would not have been—except even 10 minutes with a popular OB-GYN can be hard to come by. The scheduling nurse remained apologetic. But apparently only enough to squeeze me in for my new appointment nearly four months later.

[quote position="full" is_quote="true"]Some might say a mammogram simply isn’t worth the effort. But they don’t have my mother, a breast cancer survivor, regularly nagging them.[/quote]

After my doctor manually checked my breasts, she wrote up a new order for the mammogram. I knew to expect a six-week wait, minimum, to get back on the radiology schedule. But I tried to take it in stride. That is, until I was informed that my insurance would no longer be accepted at the doctor of my choice—thanks to cost negotiation issues between the facility and my insurance company. Not for a mammogram or anything else, for that matter. And, no, so sorry, that mammogram order would not be good at any other facility. I’d have to find a new OB-GYN and start from scratch.

At this point, some might think the universe is telling them that a mammogram simply isn’t worth the effort—they can just make do with regular self-checks at home. But they don’t have my mother, a breast cancer survivor, regularly nagging them to get in there and get it done.

So I found a new OB-GYN. Someone who is covered by my insurance. Here’s how it goes: I wait for my appointment and am finally handed a new and quite official-looking paper order for a mammogram with a quite strong admonishment from my doctor to schedule my screening immediately. I had every intention of obeying.

[quote position="right" is_quote="true"]Even 10 minutes with a popular OB-GYN can be hard to come by.[/quote]

Except when I call to schedule my mammogram, I learn that my order, despite its authoritative look, is not valid. It is missing an ICD-9 code and a checked box for “left, right, or bilateral.” I will have to get myself a new order before I can be scheduled. Not only that, but I’m told by a very unsympathetic voice on the other end of a phone line, radiology will not give me that mammogram, despite the new order or the length of time since my last screening—unless they get all of the films from my old facility, a task that will require getting a DVD burned in person.

I’m currently working on that last part. First, I have to call my new facility back and figure out what format they need. No one seems entirely sure, and I’ve gone unchecked all this time. There is one Planned Parenthood facility on the other side of town, and going there may be what I end up doing. But I shouldn't have to—by making an appointment there, I’ll be taking a spot away from someone with lesser/no insurance. And unless I plan to continue going there in the future, it breaks my continuity of care.

I’d like to tell you that my experience is an anomaly, but as I’ve recounted this experience to other women I know, I’m learning that it is not. I shudder to think of the hoops that women with lesser means may have to go through to get this routine check, especially since we well know that catching cancer early is so critical to good outcomes, both medically and financially.

It seems nearly everyone has an opinion on women’s health—especially right now. A mammogram may seem insignificant, an inconvenience, really. Certainly, Senator Pat Roberts, a Kansas Republican, thought so little of them that he callously quipped, “I wouldn’t want to lose my mammograms,” when a reporter asked him about potential cuts to “essential health benefits” in the now-pulled American Health Care Act proposal.

Though he’s since apologized, I still don’t get the joke. A year is plenty of time for that spot to turn into something more sinister. It’s not a joke for my mother, whose cancer was caught early by a routine screening. It’s not a joke for other friends who have suffered their own bouts with breast cancer, who know all too well what it feels like to wonder if their insurance will cover all or only part of their cancer treatments—let alone important checks and screenings. It’s also not a joke to the families whose loved ones succumbed to the disease, leaving only their memory and, too often, crushing medical debt behind.

That’s why I’ll continue to call and pester and beg until I get my mammogram. Not only to shut my mother up—though that part certainly won’t hurt—but because it shouldn’t be this hard to do such a simple thing that is so critical to my long-term health.

via Collection of the New-York Historical Society / Wikimedia Commons

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In 1989, a stone from the building was inscribed with:

"For Peace, Freedom

and Democracy.

Never Again Fascism.

Millions of Dead Remind [us]."

via Jo Oh / Wikimedia Commons

For three decades it was home to an organization that offered support and integration assistance for disabled people. But in 2011, the organization vacated the property because Pommer refused to bring it up to code.

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In 2017, the fight between the government and Pommer ended with it seizing the property. Authorities said it would get a "thorough architectural remodeling is necessary to permanently prevent the recognition and the symbolism of the building."

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The house is set to be redesigned following an international architectural competition.

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via Mike Mozart / Flickr

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The Salvation Army faced criticism after a leader in the organization implied that gay people "deserve to die" and the company also came under fire after refusing to offer same-sex couples health insurance. But the organization swears it's evolving on such issues.

via Thomas Hawk / Flickr

The Fellowship of Christian Athletes explicitly announced it was anti gay marriage in a recent "Statement of Faith."

God instituted marriage between one man and one woman as the foundation of the family and the basic structure of human society. For this reason, we believe that marriage is exclusively the union of one man and one woman.

The Paul Anderson Youth Home teaches boys that homosexuality is wrong and that same-sex marriage is "rage against Jesus Christ and His values."

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In 2012, Chick-fil-A's CEO, Dan Cathy, made anti same-sex marriage comments on a radio broadcast:

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But the chicken giant has now decided to change it's says its charitable donation strategy because it's bad for business...Not because being homophobic is wrong.

The company recently lost several bids to provide concessions in U.S. airports. A pop-up shop in England was told it would not be renewed after eight days following LGBTQ protests.

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via Wikimedia Commons

"There's no question we know that, as we go into new markets, we need to be clear about who we are," Chick-fil-A President and Chief Operating Officer Tim Tassopoulos told Bisnow. "There are lots of articles and newscasts about Chick-fil-A, and we thought we needed to be clear about our message."

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Instead, the Chick-fil-A Foundation plans to give $9 million to organizations that support education and fight homelessness. Which is commendable regardless of the company's troubled past.

"If Chick-Fil-A is serious about their pledge to stop holding hands with divisive anti-LGBTQ activists, then further transparency is needed regarding their deep ties to organizations like Focus on the Family, which exist purely to harm LGBTQ people and families," Drew Anderson, GLAAD's director of campaigns and rapid response, said in a statement.

Chick-fil-A's decision to back down from contributing to anti-LGBT charities shows the power that people have to fight back against companies by hitting them where it really hurts — the pocket book.

The question remains: If you previously avoided Chick-fil-A because it supported anti-LGBT organizations, is it now OK to eat there? Especially when Popeye's chicken sandwich is so good people will kill for it?


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