Thursday, December 03, 2009

Keeping Abreast of the Mammogram Controversy

A couple of weeks ago, we reported on a federal health panel's new recommendations regarding when and how often women should get mammograms. The panel's findings had ignited a pretty fierce firestorm among women's health advocates, and was widely denounced. Our take was that it didn't portend well for those who think that government-run health care would be such a perky idea.

Now comes news that the panel is softening its approach, opining that "screening women in their 40s should not be automatic, but should not be denied either."

But what struck me as even more disturbing was this admission by one of the panel's esteemed members:

"The recommendation about breast cancer screening for women 40 to 49 did not say what the task force meant to say. The task force communication was poor."

No kidding.

One is tempted to believe, however, that it was merely the fact that they were called out on their recommendations that caused them to backpedal; if the information hadn't been widely disseminated in both the old and new media, how many women would now be facing mammography rationing?

As we noted in our original post, this might have had even farther reaching impact, in that insurance carriers might have been encouraged to approve fewer mammograms. Fortunately, this hasn't turned out to be the case, as we see in an email notice I received yesterday from UHC:

"UnitedHealthcare Mammography/Cervical Screening Guidelines Remain Unchanged ... We consider mammography an important screening procedure, one that has resulted in the ability to detect and treat breast cancer at earlier stages of the disease and save lives."

The release goes on to note that UHC will continue to cover mammograms as recommended by its insureds' physicians, and that employers with self-funded plans may modify their plans to include this coverage if they don't already do so. What's also heartening is that the carrier notes that, "the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) recently changed its recommendations for cervical cancer screening, advocating less frequent screening for women in their 20s. However, UnitedHealthcare is not changing its coverage policy on cervical cancer screening."

Kudos to UHC.
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