Wednesday, January 13, 2010

Controversial mammogram recommendation rejected

Think back to last November. Besides health reform, one of the hot news items involved a controversial new recommendation from U.S. Preventive Service Task Force regarding mammograms for women in their 40s. Under the recommendation, women in their 40s with a normal cancer risk were said not to need routine mammograms. Instead, for women ages 50 to 74 who have a normal cancer risk, the Task Force recommended routine mammography screenings every two years. Previously, the Task Force’s recommendation was for routine mammography screenings every year or two for women age 40 and older. There was a firestorm of protest over this recommendations and, overnight, mammograms became a political football.

Fast forward to today. The public furor over the Task Force’s mammogram recommendation has seemed to die down quite a bit. Even so, Congress has gotten involved in the mammogram debate.

Specifically, the Senate-passed version of health reform provides that group health plans and health insurance issuers are required to provide coverage, without cost-sharing, for certain preventive services, including mammograms. However, here’s the twist: Under an amendment from Senator Barbara Mikulski (D-MD), for purposes of breast cancer screening, mammography, and prevention, the current recommendations of the U.S. Preventive Service Task Force are considered the most current, other than those issued in November of 2009. In one brief provision, the Senate is rejecting the controversial new mammogram recommendations.

According to the Wall Street Journal, “the final health-care bill is likely to require coverage for more mammograms than the new guidelines recommend after women's groups, doctors and imaging-equipment makers stepped up pressure on lawmakers.” Further, the Wall Street Journal reports, congressional staffers say that the Mikulski provision on mammograms is expected to make it into the final bill. This should not come as a surprise since, right before Christmas, the House also voted unanimously, 426-0, in favor of a nonbinding resolution that would bar the task force guidelines from being used by insurers to deny coverage for routine mammograms.

I guess the people (and Congress) have spoken.


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