News | October 10, 2011

Jerry Brown Vetoes California Breast Density Bill

October 10, 2011 — California Gov. Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would require facilities to provide information about breast density to patients who have mammograms. The bill (SB 791), introduced by Sen. Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), passed the state Senate and Assembly in early September.

Existing federal law requires a written report of mammogram results and that a summary be sent to the patient within a specified time period.    SB 791 would have required that under specified circumstances, a health facility at which a mammography exam is performed would include a specified notice on breast density. This would have been in effect from April 1, 2012, until January 1, 2018. 

The proposed law stated, “A health facility at which a mammography examination is performed shall, if a patient is categorized by the facility as having heterogeneously dense breasts or extremely dense breasts, based on the Breast Imaging Reporting and Data System established by the American College of Radiology, include in the summary of the written report that is sent to the patient, as required by federal law, the following notice: ‘Because your mammogram demonstrates that you have dense breast tissue, which could hide small abnormalities, you might benefit from supplementary screening tests, depending on your individual risk factors. A report of your mammography results, which contains information about your breast density, has been sent to your physician's office and you should contact your physician if you have any questions or concerns about this notice.’”

In his veto, Brown said, “While I wholeheartedly support everyone’s right to information about their own health, the notice in this bill gave me pause. I talked to many people, including doctors I respect, about the effects of the notice — both its risks and benefits — and struggled over the words. Were they a path to greater knowledge or unnecessary anxiety?California Governor Jerry Brown has vetoed a bill that would require facilities to provide information about breast density to patients who have mammograms. The bill (SB 791), introduced by Senator Joe Simitian (D-Palo Alto), passed the state Senate and Assembly in early September.

“My conclusion was this: every patient needs health information they can use. For women, that likely includes information about breast density. But the notice contained in this bill goes beyond information about breast density. It advises that additional screening may be beneficial. If the state must mandate a notice about breast density — and I am not certain it should — such a notice must be more carefully crafted, with words that educate more than they prescribe.”

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