Ferraro Lashes Out On Mastectomy Bill
Washington Post Staff Writer
Tuesday, May 19, 1998; Page A06
NEW YORK, May 18 Digging for traction in her run for the Senate, Democratic contender Geraldine A. Ferraro today lambasted Republican Sen. Alfonse M. D'Amato for championing a proposed breast cancer law that she said serves insurance companies at the expense of vulnerable women.
But Ferraro's accusation, an attempt to inject energy into a campaign that has had trouble formulating a message and raising money, crashed into an almost solid wall of support for D'Amato among the nation's leading breast cancer organizations. And an outraged D'Amato, a longtime supporter of federal money for breast cancer research and treatment, demanded that Ferraro apologize.
The dispute concerns a "drive-by mastectomy" bill pending this week in the Senate and co-sponsored by D'Amato and Sen. Dianne Feinstein (D-Calif.). It would guarantee that the length of time a woman stays in the hospital after a mastectomy is determined by her, in consultation with a physician. The bill attempts to address anger among women across the country who have been forced to leave hospitals within hours after having breast cancer surgery.
Ferraro, a former vice presidential nominee and CNN talking head, said D'Amato "is doing the insurance companies' work instead of the people's work" because his bill does not provide for a mandatory minimum 48-hour hospital stay after a mastectomy.
"I am saying his words are one thing and they are words that are there for the purpose of his reelection campaign," Ferraro said. "But if you take a look at his actions, they do not speak to the substance."
The American Cancer Society and the National Breast Cancer Coalition, however, praised D'Amato today for cooperating with them in drafting the bill, which has broad bipartisan support among 21 Senate sponsors and last week was attached to the pending tobacco bill.
Officials at both cancer groups said they believe it is probably not a good idea for federal law to mandate how long a woman should be kept in a hospital for a particular operation.
"The decision should be made on medical evidence. It shouldn't be made by Congress," said Fran Visco, head of the National Breast Cancer Coalition. "We are concerned that if 48-hour language is in the bill, it may become a medical standard."
At the American Cancer Society, an official described D'Amato as being "very hard working" and "willing to compromise" in the language of the breast cancer bill and strongly disagreed with Ferraro's assertion today that it "represents the principles of the insurance companies."
Perhaps more than in any other state, breast cancer is an emotional and politically explosive issue in New York. On Long Island, Nassau and Suffolk counties have the highest and fourth-highest per capita rates of breast cancer in the country. In a shrewd mix of compassion and good politics, D'Amato has since 1992 supported nearly $757 million of federal spending on breast cancer research and treatment.
"Al D'Amato has been great. He was there for us in the very beginning," said Visco.
Ferraro's campaign manager, David Eichenbaum, said later today that Ferraro's criticism of D'Amato was meant only to encourage him to support the 48-hour hospital stay and not to impugn his work on other breast cancer bills.
D'Amato pounced on Ferraro's criticism, choosing to interpret it as an attack on "the women of America."
"It is an outrage that Geraldine Ferraro would politicize and criticize the good work we have done against all odds for the women of America," D'Amato said. "She owes Dianne Feinstein, me and the other men and women who have fought for this bill more than an explanation, she owes us an apology."
Feinstein, who is a friend of Ferraro's, did not repeat the demand for an apology.
An independent poll late last week showed that D'Amato and Ferraro are in a virtual dead heat, each with about 41 percent of the vote in a head-to-head contest. Ferraro has nearly a 3-1 lead in the September primary over her Democratic opponents, New York public advocate Mark Green and Rep. Charles E. Schumer, according to the poll.
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