In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) became the latest Democrat to try to divorce the party’s health reform
In a statement released Sunday afternoon, Senate Majority Leader Harry Reid (D-Nev.) became the latest Democrat to try to divorce the party’s health reform bills from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which issued controversial new guidelines last week for breast cancer screening.
Let’s be clear: the task force’s recommendation will have absolutely no impact on the bills we in the Senate write, debate or vote on. [HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius] has also assured me there that nothing in Medicare or Medicaid will change as a result of the recommendation, and that’s the way it should be.
Yet the Senate bill says explicitly that, as a part of newly proposed minimum benefits requirements, every insurer ”shall provide coverage for … evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force.” The House bill contains a nearly identical provision.
The task force guideline recommending that women between ages 50 and 74 receive biennial routine mammograms, instead of annual checkups, received a “B” rating.
That in no way means that women wouldn’t have access to annual mammograms. Again, the essential benefits package represents the minimum coverage insurers would have to offer. The task force is clear that the ultimate decision on the frequency of screenings should be made by women and their doctors.
Still, there’s also the fear that private insurers will lean on the task force recommendations to justify a scaling back of coverage for routine mammograms. Julius Hobson, former lobbyist for the American Medical Association and now a senior policy analyst at the Washington law firm Bryan Cave, said it’s “inevitable” that private insurance companies will look at those guidelines, and may change their coverage policies based on what they see. Certainly, they would like the potential cost savings if women were getting routine mammograms every two years instead of every one.
“It’s almost inevitable that that’s going to happen,” Hobson said last week. “The government doesn’t move that fast, but the health insurers do.”
That has some members of Congress concerned about the threat to women’s health. As Rep. Jerrold Nadler (D-N.Y.) said in a phone interview last week, “Cancers can progress very far in two years.”
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