2015-07-29: Published by Bloomberg
by Zachary Tracer
Two U.S. representatives are pushing back against a recommendation from an expert panel that could limit free breast-cancer screenings for younger women.
Renee Ellmers, a North Carolina Republican, and Debbie Wasserman Schultz, a Florida Democrat, submitted a bill Wednesday to put a two-year moratorium on a proposal from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force that might end guaranteed insurance coverage for mammograms for women ages 40 to 49. The panel said in April that the benefits of those screenings may not outweigh harms such as false positives, though it hasn’t yet issued final recommendations.
If the bill passes, it wouldn’t be the first time Congress has effectively overruled the experts on breast-cancer screening. The controversy dates back to 2009, when the panel made a similar recommendation that turned out to be so controversial that lawmakers created a provision of the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act to keep coverage intact.
“Upwards of 22 million women are at risk for losing access to mammograms,” Ellmers said in an e-mailed statement. “This type of recommendation impairs access to breast cancer screenings and would be detrimental for women’s health.”
Harms and Benefits
After its recommendation was ignored in 2009, the task force found in April that the harms of mammograms outweigh the benefits for most women under 50. It gave the screening a C rating. Insurers are required to cover procedures that get an A or B from the group.
“It is wrong of the USPSTF to write off any young woman in her forties who wants to have a mammogram, and this legislation will ensure we hear from the group most affected by these draft recommendations -- young women under the age of 50,” Wasserman Schultz said in an e-mailed statement.
The panel said women ages 50 to 74 should get a mammogram every other year and gave that recommendation a B. It also said women with a family history of breast cancer should consider starting screenings earlier.
The USPSTF is an independent panel of medical experts that examines the harms and benefits of medical procedures. It doesn’t consider costs.
“The decision to start screening mammography in women prior to age 50 years should be an individual one,” the panel said. “Women who place a higher value on the potential benefit than the potential harms may choose to begin biennial screening between the ages of 40 and 49.”