KHN Morning Briefing

Summaries of health policy coverage from major news organizations.

At House Hearing, Panel Seeks To Clarify Advice On Mammograms

Members of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force testified at a hearing Wednesday before the the House Energy and Commerce subcommittee on health.

"Women in their 40s should begin getting mammograms whenever they want, members of a U.S. advisory group told a House hearing Wednesday, saying their 'poorly worded' recommendations last month had confused people," Bloomberg/The Boston Globe reports. Physicians with the USPSTF said "that they had not meant to suggest that screenings were unnecessary for patients in that age group. Instead, the physicians said, they meant that screening is more effective for those 50 to 74. Republicans had trumpeted the initial recommendations, issued Nov. 16, as evidence that the Democratic-sponsored healthcare overhaul would lead to rationing of medical care. And women whose cancers were detected by early screening objected that their lives could have been lost if the recommendations had existed earlier." But at the hearing, Democrats "said the proposed healthcare overhaul would expand coverage for women and promote use of scientific evidence in determining the best care" (Gaouette, 12/3).

CBS News: "Still, the government-appointed task force is holding firm on its recommendation that most women should not get regular mammograms until the age of 50. 'Mammograms over 40 should not be automatic,' said Dr. Diana Petitti, a co-author of the study. Many doctors are ignoring that advice, recommending that patients are screened annually" (Cordes, 12/2).

Reuters: "Republican Representative Joe Barton argued that under Democratic healthcare reform legislation passed by the House of Representatives, the task force could determine what preventive services, including mammograms, would be covered for many Americans" (Steenhuysen, 12/3).

Modern Healthcare: "In a letter to both the chairman and ranking member of the House Energy and Commerce Committee, nearly a dozen U.S. health and prevention organizations defended the U.S. Preventive Task Force's recent recommendations on breast cancer screenings. The groups-which include the American Academy of Family Physicians, the American College of Physicians, the American Academy of Nurse Practitioners, the American Public Health Association, and the Trust for America's Health-said there have been numerous misstatements in the media about the recommendations, including one about the task force recommending that women between the ages of 40 and 49 not receive mammograms" (Zigmond, 12/2).

St. Louis Post-Dispatch: "Nearly all insurance plans cover the $150 to $200 procedure for women in their 40s. About two-thirds of American women 40 and older report having had a mammogram in the previous two years. ...  A spokeswoman for America's Health Insurance Plans, an industry group, said the new guidelines weren't likely to change coverage of mammograms. Skeptics pointed out that insurance companies have used the task force's guidelines before as a standard for approving or denying payments for other health screenings" (Bernhard, 12/3).

KHN related story: Mammogram Controversy: 'Politics Is Always Intruding Into The World Of Breast Cancer' (Girshman, 11/20)

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