Thursday, November 19, 2009

Health and Human Services Sec'y Says, Nevermind About Those New Mammogram Guidelines

Following days of uproar after a federal government panel told fortysomething American women that regular mammogram screening doesn't save enough of their lives to justify the costs or the "anxiety" caused by biopsies and additional tests (which don't often result in a cancer diagnosis), the U.S. Secretary of Health and Human Services yesterday told everyone to basically ignore the new guidelines.

Maybe all those women who said their cancers were detected through routine screenings when they were in their 40s and said they would've been dead if they'd waited until age 50 -- as the new panel suggests women now do -- had an impact. Secretary Kathleen Sebelius said in a statement released yesterday:

"The task force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged. Indeed I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action."

Given that during his speech to a joint session of Congress earlier fall President Obama said that under his health care reform plan ". . . [I]nsurance companies will be required to cover, with no extra charge, routine checkups and preventive care, like mammograms and colonoscopies because there's no reason we shouldn't be catching diseases like breast cancer and colon cancer before they get worse. That makes sense, it saves money, and it saves lives," it would be nice for the federal government to send a consistent message and not tell people that preventive care is important, then recommend that they not get it.

In the meantime, USA Today reported today that major health insurance company spokespeople are saying that they won't stop covering mammograms for women in their 40s as a result of the US Preventive Services Task Force guidelines:

"Some of the companies that told USA TODAY that they will continue paying for mammograms for women in their 40s include Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Cigna, Geisinger Health Plan, Group Health Cooperative and WellPoint, which operates Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in 14 states. Together, these plans cover more than 73 million people.

A spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, Farra Levin, says, 'We believe that focusing on prevention and early detection is critical in improving women's health and saving lives.'"

So that means that saving the lives of fortysomething women IS worth the cost of mammograms?

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