New NY State Law on Information for Women Undergoing Mastectomy

A few days ago, NY State Governor Paterson quietly signed a new public health law* on information and access to breast reconstructive surgery. From the details provided on my state’s Open Legislation website, it seems this took place on August 13.

The purpose of the new law is to assure that all women undergoing mastectomy in NY are told about reconstructive surgery options and that insurance will cover those additional procedures.

What’s curious are two things – first, why so little coverage of this event? It is end-of-summer, I suppose.

But maybe editors and people like me who are educated in medicine and read newspapers are out-of-touch with the fact that many women who have breast cancer – over 200,000 each year in the U.S. – still don’t really know about breast reconstruction during or after cancer treatment. In my community, people read books and ask multiple doctors in second and third opinion before deciding whether to undergo a trans-flap or have implants inserted and then, once electing for implants, attempt a careful review the not-so-current literature on silicone vs. saline…

The reality is that many women, particularly poor women without newspapers or internet access in their homes, don’t know about any of this. They don’t know their insurance covers pretty much all of these options, by law. Now they will, or should as of Jan 1, 2011. Good.

The other curiosity is that a Montefiore Medical Center-affiliated plastic and reconstructive surgeon is said to have authored this bill, which was sponsored by State Senator Ruth Hassell-Thompson. The doctor’s intentions were surely good; he advocated its passage based on the sad case of a single mom who, after undergoing mastectomy and seeing several physicians, still wasn’t aware that she might undergo breast reconstruction. Nonetheless, it’s not surprising that a plastic surgeon in the Bronx cares about this legislation.

There is a dark side to this, unfortunately. Even among the women with good insurance and purportedly top docs, the results of reconstructive breast surgery are sometimes devastating to the women who undergo these procedures. These are no boob-jobs, and there’s widespread misconception about that. So I hope the law, also, might eventually protect women from botched attempts at reconstruction, an under-reported problem that might also be newsworthy.

*addendum – first link above adjusted because the previous url, is no longer available, ES 2/14/11

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  • Hi Elaine,
    I enjoyed your comments regarding the new NYS law requiring counseling for women prior to mastectomy for breast cancer. I applaud the passage of the federal legislation mandating breast reconstruction surgery, but think that women also need to have the option for a custom fabricated prosthetic breast if they do not want or cannot have surgical reconstruction.

    There are currently bills pending in the Senate S 3255 and House H.R. 5447 that would require Medicare reimbursement for a custom breast prostheses, as a woman’s breast is the only body part for which Medicare refuses to cover a custom fabricated prosthetic replacement. It is unfortunate that the NYS law requiring counseling about reconstructive surgery does not require that women be given information about the availability of custom breast prostheses as part of informed consent. Thanks for your efforts!! Best Regards,

  • I read with great interest your question of how come this bill was signed and so low key-I am the executive director of The Hewlett House which is a Breast and all cancer resource center. We have many support groups and I run a double mastectomy group-I would like to contact Thompson and see who else was on the bill and find out why there was no press conference-

    thak you

    geri barish

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