WASHINGTON – A teary-eyed Backstreet Boy, Kevin Richardson, came to Capitol Hill to push for insurance coverage for colorectal cancer screening Wednesday, saying his “life was changed” when his father died of colon cancer in 1991.
But the presence of the boy-band superstar at the sunny outdoor news conference eclipsed the message, as the dozen or so teen-age girls in attendance swooned and closed in on him after the event.
“It’s my birthday and I was wondering if, like, I could get my picture taken with you?” one girl asked of pop idol Richardson, who had shaved his goatee and was wearing his hair somewhat long and slicked back.
Richardson shook hands and posed for photographs with his fans, after politely asking them to let others ask questions about colorectal cancer and the bills introduced by Sen. Edward Kennedy, D-Mass., and Reps. Connie Morella, R- Bethesda, and Louise Slaughter, D-N.Y.
“The last year I was here on these grounds was in 1989, my senior year in high school,” Richardson said when he was introduced. “I never thought I’d be here on these grounds to speak on an issue so dear to me.”
He pointed to American Cancer Society statistics indicating there is a greater than 90 percent survival rate if colorectal cancer is detected early, and said the bills seem “to me like a pretty simple deal. The facts seem to speak for themselves.”
The bills, both called the Eliminate Colorectal Cancer Act of 2001, would require private health insurers to provide coverage for colorectal coverage screening at regular intervals for all people over 50 and for anyone under 50 at high risk for the disease.
The American Cancer Society estimates that colorectal cancer deaths could be cut in half with proper screening of people over 50. It said colorectal cancer is the second-leading cause of cancer deaths in the country, killing more than 56,700 men and women this year alone, and that another 135,400 cases will be diagnosed this year.
But a spokesman for the Health Insurance Association of America said the bills are unnecessary because such screening is already covered.
“Insurance companies provide payment for colorectal screening based upon standards developed by the nation’s leading medical organizations,” said spokesman Richard Coorsh. “We think it (colorectal cancer) is a significant problem and people ought to take advantage of their insurance coverage so they can get screening.”
But one of those “leading medical organizations,” the American Society of Colon and Rectal Surgeons, said that insurance companies are not providing coverage for people without symptoms or inherited risk factors.
“They are not covering screening for routine, non-inherited, non- symptomatic screening for colorectal cancer,” said Dr. John M. MacKeigan, president of the society. “That just isn’t happening.
MacKeigan said there is “pretty clear evidence” that only full colonoscopy conducted regularly can detect polyps and other potentially cancerous growths in the digestive tract. Genetics and, possibly, diet are the leading culprits in the onset of the disease, he said.
But Richardson tried to direct attention to his new “Just Within Reach” environmental foundation, whose initials were chosen to match those of his late father, Jerald Wayne Richardson.
The foundation would focus on educating children about the importance of protecting the natural environment, a cause Richardson feels deeply about because of the link he sees between cancer and despoiled air and water.
“We want to raise money to put together educational videos for schools,” said Richardson, who was engulfed by fans once the news conference was over.