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Breast cancer screenings stopped for working poor

California will stop providing free breast cancer screenings beginning Jan. 1 to working-poor women between the ages of 40 and 49 who have been served by the state's Every Woman Counts program.

Women older than 50 can continue receiving such screenings, but the program will impose a six-month freeze, ending July 1, on enrolling new women to be served.

Assemblyman Pedro Nava, D-Santa Barbara, joined with others in a Capitol news conference Tuesday to blast the changes announced recently by state health officials.

"Shame on the Department of Public health," Nava said.

Twenty-one members of California's congressional delegation have signed a letter urging Every Woman Counts to continue providing mammograms to women in their 40s.

The changes come about a month after a federal government task force concluded that women in their 40s do not need routine mammograms and that women past 50 should have them every other year.

But Al Lundeen, spokesman for the state health department, said the reduction in service was based largely on fiscal problems, not on a conclusion that such screenings are unnecessary.

"It isn't that we don't want to provide these services, we can't afford to provide these services," Lundeen said.

California health policy remains that women older than 40 should get screened for breast cancer, he said.

Every Woman Counts provides both breast and cervical cancer screenings. The latter will not be affected by the changes.

Nearly 260,000 women have been served by Every Woman Counts this year, though a breakdown of how many were in their 40s was not available Tuesday.

Participants in Every Woman Counts typically have higher incomes than allowed under Medi-Cal but less than $21,660 for a single person or $36,620 for a family of three.