(WOMENSENEWS)–The lack of access to breast cancer screening and treatment has been highlighted with the introduction of two bills in Congress that, if made law, would improve women’s access to timely, quality mammograms and to prescription drugs to treat breast cancer.

The Medicare reimbursement rate for mammograms has not been increased since 1990 and many facilities and radiologists are discouraged from continuing to offer them, making it more difficult for women to obtain a mammogram, says a press release from Sen. Barbara Mikulski (D-Md.). This severely reduces women’s chances of early breast cancer detection, the release adds.

Sen. Mikulski issued the release to coincide with the introduction of legislation that would increase the Medicare reimbursement for mammograms to $90 from $69.23. The proposal is sponsored by her and Sens. Tom Harkin (D-Iowa), Frank Murkowski (R-Ark.), Patty Murray (D-Wash.), Charles Schumer (D-N.Y.), Olympia Snowe (R-Maine) and Harry Reid (D-Nev.)

The high cost of prescription drugs for breast cancer treatment poses another problem for women without prescription drug coverage. Today, a woman without such coverage pays $105 a month for her treatment but a woman with drug coverage pays $58, according to the sponsors of the proposed Breast Cancer Prescription Drug Act in the House of Representatives.

This bill, sponsored by Reps. Carolyn McCarthy (D-N.Y.) and Felix J. Grucci (R-N.Y.), would make prescription drugs to fight breast cancer more affordable to women who receive Medicare benefits as well as those who are under 55 and without insurance. The proposed law would permit women with Medicare coverage to pay the lower price for the prescription and allow women ineligible for Medicare and without prescription drug insurance to pay the same, lower price.

Breast cancer is the most common cancer in U.S. women, and the risk increases with age, according to the National Alliance of Breast Cancer Organizations. In 2001, 192,000 new cases of breast cancer will be diagnosed, and 40,200 women will die from the disease.