Mark Kennedy's Cure For 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 May 8. 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 that 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 hard-liner is soft on cancer.

In June of 2003 and May of 2004, Kennedy voted against an amendment to the Small Business Health Fairness Act that would require participants in Association Health Plans (AHPs) to offer coverage for breast-cancer screenings, among other services. Without this amendment, AHPs--pools of small businesses that band together under federal authority to provide health insurance--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. The proposed amendment to the federal bill would have reinforced 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. (The Small Business Health Fairness Act passed in the House in both 2003 and 2004 without the amendment.)

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. So why is Kennedy feigning support for women and the Susan G. Komen foundation while nixing the kind of legislation that would guarantee earlier detection? According to his press secretary, Kennedy was unavailable for comment. Perhaps he was buying new sneaks for the mall walk.

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