If you’re a woman of a certain age living in the District and receiving Medicaid benefits, don’t be surprised if AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia reminds you that it’s time for a mammogram.
AmeriHealth, one of four Medicaid-managed care organizations, is ratcheting up its efforts to ensure all women due — or overdue — for a mammogram undergo breast-cancer screenings, Keith Maccannon, director of marketing, community relations and outreach for AmeriHealth Caritas in the District, told the AFRO.
One of the ways AmeriHealth reaches out to those women is by partnering with It’s In the Genes, a nonprofit, breast-cancer advocacy group based in Southwest D.C., to hold “PINKIE” parties at all of the major hospitals in the District and surrounding areas. PINKIE stands for “Purposely Involved N Keeping Individuals Educated.” At the events women chat with breast cancer survivors and get mammograms in a fun, festive environment complete with spa services, a deejay, swag bags and more.
“Even though they know they’re due for a mammogram, they may need a little extra support to go out and get that done,” Maccannon said of women.
Typically, between 25 and 35 women at the parties get mammograms on the spot, Maccannon said. If the women don’t want them done at the parties, they can sign up to get one at another time for free or at a reduced price. According to costhelper.com, a privately-held Internet startup located in Silicon Valley that provides consumer information about thousands of goods and services, the average cost of a mammogram is about $102. As part of its ongoing outreach, AmeriHealth plans to hold more “PINKIE” parties this year.
AmeriHealth is focused on getting women aged 40 and above in for mammograms. Women between ages 50 and 54 are supposed to get mammograms annually, while women 55 and above should have them every two years, MacCannon said. “Our goal as a managed care organization is to make sure that all of the members enrolled in our plan get those screenings and those healthcare exams that they are supposed to get according to their age and gender,” Maccannon said.
Mammograms, which allow doctors to help see when there’s a change in the breast can be a powerful tool in the fight against breast cancer.
Besides the PINKIE parties, AmeriHealth also gets the word out about mammograms by way of phone calls, targeted mailings, automated phone reminders, text messages, the George Washington University Mobile Mammography Van, and sponsorships from local groups that emphasize the importance of mammograms.
In 2016, AmeriHealth Caritas District of Columbia had roughly 4,047 members meeting the criteria for a breast cancer screening exam, MacCannon said. Of those members, AmeriHealth’s outreach efforts led to nearly 63 percent of them getting the exam in 2017, he said.
The District appears to be ground zero for breast cancer. Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that the District has the eighth highest mortality rate from breast cancer in the U.S. Nationwide, Black women are also most likely to die from the disease than any other group, statistics show.
Victorianne Russell Walton, 52, founder of It’s in the Genes, is a breast cancer survivor who had health insurance at the time of her 2007 diagnosis. She alleges that in her case, her doctor was at fault for misdiagnosing her four times. “If you can’t trust your doctor and if your doctor of years is misdiagnosing you, who can you trust?” Walton asked.
She was convinced she had breast cancer because it ran in her family, so she kept persisting. “They didn’t analyze the tumor, they were analyzing fatty tissue,” Walton said. “Each time they said, ‘It’s benign.’ I said, ‘No, it’s not.’”
She was up against a doctor who initially thought her health problems had to do with her being an overweight Black woman who ate a lot of salt. Walton said she cut back her salt intake years before. She declined to name the doctor, citing ongoing litigation.
“We have these stereotypes against us before we even walk in the room. I think it’s a form of same old, same old,” she said.
By the time Walton was finally diagnosed in May 2007, she had a 50 percent chance of living. Today, she encourages women to be just as pushy as she was with her doctor. They should also take the initiative and get their scheduled mammograms
“Superman is not coming; Superwoman is not coming,” Walton said.