Mammogram Guideline Changes Kickstart Healthcare Politicking

Breast Cancer Awareness from Rosie the Riveter...

Image by Beverlykahuna via Flickr

It is mind boggling. Somehow a mild-mannered, statistically-based recommendation that perhaps breast cancer screening guidelines should be revised becomes the same thing as a medical rationing – and somehow related to healthcare reform. The issue here is nothing to do with the screening recommendation (which are in fact likely to be ignored) and everything to do with partisan politics being played out to prevent any rational and sensible discussion about healthcare reform.

Just to get it out of the way, the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel set up by the Department of Health and Human Services (in other words, a panel set up and operating under our EXISTING health care, PRE-reform) issued guidelines that recommend that without any other risk factors being present, women should start breast cancer screenings at age 50 rather than age 40. This may not have been the soundest guideline they ever issued, but it was based on statistics and cost-benefit analysis. The important part, however, is absent other risk factors. And what is more the American Cancer Society and insurers are currently saying they are going to ignore the guidelines.

But somehow that became, “I mean, let the rationing begin,” and “Agencies will be created that will make decisions just like this, that some lifesaving screening is not worth it.”  That’s a big jump – actually several of them. First nobody has changed anything. Second – no agencies have been created. Third, that ‘lifesaving’ isn’t worth it.

No prizes for guessing where politicians went with this and from which parties. But it should be pointed out that more level-headed politicians from both sides are suggesting that a calm review might be the best approach.  Doctors are mostly yawning and saying that they consider the patient and their history and condition in all decisions. Let’s hope the politicians will do the same…

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