The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act

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The Women's Health and Cancer Rights Act of 1998 (WHCRA) is a federal law that provides protections to patients who choose to have breast reconstruction in connection with a mastectomy. This law applies generally both to persons covered under group health plans and persons with individual health insurance coverage. But WHCRA does NOT require health plans or issuers to pay for mastectomies. If a group health plan or health insurance issuer chooses to cover mastectomies, then the plan or issuer is generally subject to WHCRA requirements.

If WHCRA applies to you and if you are receiving benefits in connection with a mastectomy and you elect breast reconstruction, coverage must be provided for

  • reconstruction of the breast on which the mastectomy has been performed;
  • surgery and reconstruction of the other breast to produce a symmetrical appearance;
  • prostheses (e.g., breast implant); and
  • treatment for physical complications of the mastectomy, including lymphedema.

Contact your state's insurance department to find out about whether protections in addition to WHCRA will apply to your coverage if you are NOT in a self-insured health plan.

The WHCRA requires group health plans and health insurance issuers, including insurance companies and health maintenance organizations (HMOs), to notify individuals regarding coverage required under the law. Notification is required at three separate times

  1. After enactment of WHCRA
  2. Upon enrollment
  3. Annually

Click here to download full text of the act.

Source: Department of Health and Human Services

Updated 10/7/08

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