GREEN BAY — As a child of perhaps 6 or 7, Deb Williams remembers her grandparents taking her to a chapel somewhere.
At age 23, she visited what was then known by most people as The Chapel at Robinsonville and realized that this was indeed the place that had made such an impact on her as a child.
Nearly three decades later, at age 51, Williams was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer after finding a lump during her regular self-examination.
And it was through her faith as a member of St. Patrick Parish in Green Bay — as well as pilgrimages to what is now The National Shrine of Our Lady of Good Help; the support of family and friends; and the invaluable assistance of the Wisconsin Well Woman Program — that Williams says she made it through some very tough days.
When she found the lump, the timing couldn’t have been worse.
She had just left a job that had health insurance and her new job had not yet started. But she said the financial ramifications of what might lie ahead were far from her mind when she called the hospital to schedule a mammogram.
Williams got the news the very day of her mammogram that she had breast cancer. What she remembers most are the tears as she started to leave for home.
Then, from what seemed out of nowhere, came a voice asking, “‘Honey, are you OK?’” recalled Williams. It was the breast health coordinator and as they sat and talked, the coordinator asked, “Do you have insurance?”
She didn’t, and that’s when certified health education specialist Rebecca Nyberg, coordinator for the northeast region of the Wisconsin Well Woman Program, entered the picture. Her office is responsible for seven northeast Wisconsin counties: Marinette, Shawano, Oconto, Brown, Door, Kewaunee and Manitowoc. Two other specialists coordinate other counties in the Diocese of Green Bay.
The Wisconsin Well Woman Program provides preventive health screening services to women with little or no health insurance coverage. It pays for mammograms, Pap tests, certain other health screenings and multiple sclerosis testing for women with high risk signs of MS.
The program is administered by the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, Division of Public Health, and is available in all 72 counties and 11 tribal communities.
Covered services are available from participating health care providers at no cost to Well Woman clients. There is no premium, copayment or deductible for the Well Woman Program. Not all covered services are available from every provider.
Women ages 45 to 64 (or 35 to 44 with breast symptoms or concerns), may qualify if they do not have health insurance or their insurance policy has a high deductible for screenings or tests and their income is within specific guidelines. For a single woman, it is an annual gross income of up to $29,700, for a two-person household, it is up to $40,050. For a larger household size, the local specialist will assist applicants on income qualifications.
“I’m almost behind the scenes,” said Nyberg. Right now, during October’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month, she’s busy trying to get the word out about the Wisconsin Well Woman Program and is fortunate to have many in local health care who know to make the referral to her when someone is in need. “All the mammogram units know about me,” she said.
The opportunity for better access to health care has improved greatly because of the Affordable Care Act, said Nyberg, but “we know that women are still out there and they can take advantage of the (Wisconsin Well Woman) program.”
The greatest risks for breast cancer are being a woman and getting older. Most breast cancer occurs in women age 50 and older, she said.
The goal is to get qualifying women in for regular screenings through the Wisconsin Well Woman Program. If a diagnosis is made and they do not have health insurance, Nyberg helps them find coverage through BadgerCare or the Affordable Care Act, which can then address not only their immediate treatment requirements but all their health care needs.
She added that a person can no longer be rejected because of a pre-existing condition. Nyberg noted that open enrollment for ACA begins Nov. 1 and ends Dec. 15 for Jan. 1, 2017, coverage. She encourages everyone in need of health insurance to do their research about what’s available to them. See www.healthcare.gov for more information.
For more information on Wisconsin Well Woman Program, call (800) 722-2295 or visit www.dhs.wisconsin.gov/wwwp.