Pap smears are a regular health care item for women, and are considered covered expenses under many health plans; indeed, many of the newer HDHP's cover them as first dollar expenses (meaning that most of the cost is borne by the carrier, regardless of whether or not one has met the deductible).
And that's a good thing.
Or is it?
According to a recent NYT article, "(a) new DNA test for the virus that causes cervical cancer does so much better than current methods that some gynecologists hope it will eventually replace the Pap smear ... Not only could the new test for human papillomavirus, or HPV, save lives; scientists say that women over 30 could drop annual Pap smears and instead have the DNA test just once every 3, 5 or even 10 years."
Once a decade? That could represent a significant cost savings, for both insureds and insurers. But is cheaper better?
Scientists' "optimism is based on an eight-year study of 130,000 women in India financed by the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation and published ... in The New England Journal of Medicine. It is the first to show that a single screening with the DNA test beats all other methods at preventing advanced cancer and death."
"All other methods." That's significant.
On the other hand, the old adage about the roof that isn't leaking still holds sway:
"But whether the new test is adopted will depend on many factors, including hesitation by gynecologists to abandon Pap smears, which have been remarkably effective. Cervical cancer was a leading cause of death for American women in the 1950s; it now kills fewer than 4,000 a year."
That's a significant reduction on cervical cancer-related deaths; while 4,000 still leaves a lot of sad widowers, parents and children, it's a far cry from a "leading cause of death." So the question is whether the new test can put a significant enough dent on those remaining 4,000 to persuade OBGYN's to abandon the old Pap smear en masse.
Time will tell.
[Hat Tip: Holly Robinson]