Balking for the cure

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Mark Kennedy fails to put on a good face in the race to cure breast cancer

Minnesota congressman Mark Kennedy is talking out of one side of his mouth while shoving his foot in the other. Last week, the Republican representative from Watertown posted a plea in his online "Weekly Column" encouraging Minnesotans to participate in the Susan G. Komen Breast Cancer Foundation Race for the Cure at the Mall of America on Sunday. Breast cancer is a disease that "should be paid the utmost attention," he went on to say.

Rallying more support for the 21-year-old foundation is certainly a good thing; breast cancer is the leading cause of death and illness among Minnesota women between the ages of 35 and 54. But it's hard to claim Kennedy has paid the "utmost attention" to the cause on the floor of the U.S. House. In fact, his record suggests the senate hopeful and party hardliner is soft on cancer.

In May of 2004 and June of 2003, Kennedy voted against an amendment to the Small Business Health Fairness Act (a federal program that allows small businesses to band together to provide health insurance) that would require participants in the Association Health Plans (AHP) to offer coverage for breast-cancer screenings, among other services. Without this amendment, AHPs have sole discretion in selecting which procedures will be covered.

In fact, AHP participants are able to sidestep Minnesota consumer-protection laws that assure access to mammography screenings and regular OB-/GYN services. An amendment to the bill would simply reinforce state laws already in place, but Kennedy voted to exempt AHPs  from Minnesota state regulation and the required mammography-screening benefit. As a result, in an effort to cut costs, small-business participants can deny employees comprehensive coverage for routine testing.

When breast cancer is confined to the breast, the five-year survival rate is near 100 percent, which means early detection is crucial to survival. Instead of voting for an amendment that would make this possible, Kennedy offers a disingenuous call to Minnesotans to help in the effort to eradicate breast cancer by supporting a foundation whose mission is to advance research, education, screening, and treatment. So why is Kennedy feigning support for women and the foundation while toeing the Republican Party line by advocating for businesses instead of mandates that would allow for earlier detection? According to his press secretary, Kennedy was unavailable for comment. Perhaps he was out buying new sneaks for the mall walk.


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