By Carly Harrington | Knoxville News Sentinel
4:00 PM, Jul 9, 2015
When Lou Lovingood, a 63-year-old grandmother from Sweetwater, was diagnosed with breast cancer earlier this year, she didn’t shed a tear.
Those came, she said, after receiving the first letter from her insurance company denying coverage for proton therapy, a type of radiation treatment that targets a specific location while minimizing damage to surrounding tissue and organs.
“It was the first time I had cried after all of this, after I got my first denial,” said Lovingood, who has now been denied twice and is appealing to her insurer again.
Lovington had lumpectomies in both breasts after her diagnosis, and completed her 33rd and final proton treatment Thursday at the Provision Center for Proton Therapy. She was the center’s 500th patient, and used the spotlight during a special celebration to share her insurance story.
“My diagnosis today could be yours tomorrow,” she said. “We want the best level of care for everybody. If there is something better that’s out there, we should have the right to it. We have to stand up and use our voice to say, ‘You can’t treat us this way.’”
Lovingood, co-owner of Sweetwater Insurance Agency, used savings put up for retirement to pay for the treatment. Others, she said, may not be so fortunate.
For the past two years, Provision has unsuccessfully prodded the state Legislature to get involved in getting proton therapy covered. The most recent bill called for proton to be covered by insurers at the same levels it covers other radiation therapies.
Insurers have argued that the more-expensive treatment isn’t cost effective and is not necessarily better than traditional radiation therapies.
Provision opened in January 2014 and is treating about 80 patients a day with proton therapy. More than 44 different cancers in various locations have been treated.
It also now has pencil beam scanning in all three of its treatment rooms, giving physicians more-precise capability, said Bill Hansen, vice president of business and strategic development at Provision Health Partners.
Looking ahead, Provision plans to continue to expand into different disease sites and offer more trials with some other newer treatment techniques.
Lovingood, for example, is the first person the center has treated for bilateral breast cancer.
“We’re trying to treat as much cancer as we can as noninvasive as possible,” Hansen said. “More time and energy is going to be spent in early detection, free screenings and finding programs that can match up.”