Accurate Pap Test Only for Women Who Can Afford It
"A Pap test plus an HPV test (called co-testing) is the preferred way to find early cervical cancers or pre-cancers in women 30 and older."
- from the website of the American Cancer Society
I am pleased to hear that organizations across the province intend to sue the federal government in order to force Quebec to put an end to medical surcharges that leave people out of pocket.
Malpractice lawyer Jean-Pierre Ménard argues that Canadian law strictly forbids extra fees for “medically necessary services.” But what happens when the public system doesn’t cover a medically necessary service—like, say, a proper test to detect cervical cancer?
Recently my doctor informed me that the routine Pap smear that women have been given over the years is only 50% effective as a screening tool for this type of cancer. If I wanted the more comprehensive screening, which also detects human papillomavirus (HPV), I would have to pay a hefty $200. He wasn’t insisting, not by any stretch, that I do the test but he provided me with the facts, as I asked. I learned that this newer, liquid-based Pap test is 98% accurate and that a negative result would mean not having to see him again for three years.
A substitute teacher without a fancy health plan, I forked over the money— for peace of mind. But some women in the province don’t have that luxury. For them, rent and food come first.
The truth is that for now the Quebec government won’t subsidize a test that could potentially save the life of every Quebec woman because it does not consider it “medically necessary.” What we do have in Quebec is what Dr. Brian Hutchison of Canadian Doctors for Medicare calls “a two-tiered system” that “jeopardizes access for those who are unable to pay fees,” a great number of them women who struggle every day to make ends meet.
* An edited version of this letter was published in The Gazette on Saturday, May 7, 2016.