Setting the Stage for Rationed Care: Gambling with Women’s Lives

November 20, 2009

By Mailee Smith, Staff Counsel

Women received two bombshell pieces of “advice” this week.  First, the U.S. Preventative Services Task Force (a government-funded panel) released guidelines stating that mammograms are not necessary for women of average risk in their 40s, and that women aged 50 to 74 should only undergo mammograms every other year.  The Task Force also instructed practitioners to quit instructing women to conduct monthly self-exams, because there is allegedly no evidence that it is of any benefit.  As the Wall Street Journal reported, “The task force said the new guidelines strike a better balance between the benefits of early cancer detection and the unnecessary anxiety and extra costs associated with false positives….”

Breast Exam Guidelines Raise Furor (emphasis added), available here

Second, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists (ACOG) released a report stating that women should be screened later and less often for cervical cancer.  While traditionally women have been encouraged to have annual pap smears, ACOG’s report states that healthy women over 30 can go for as long as three years without screening.  Healthy women over 65 can stop screening altogether.  Its rationale is that there is a low incidence of cervical cancer among women aged 15 to 19; and gee, it grows slowly, anyway—so there is time to “catch it” before it is too late.  Of course, this all begs the question of how a woman can know she is “healthy” if she hasn’t had a screening for a few years.

Throw major healthcare reform in the mix, and the timing is highly suspect.  As the federal government is poised to take over healthcare, these two reports urge sporadic screening and for fewer people.

ACOG claims the events are coincidental.  As the New York Times reported:

Arriving on the heels of hotly disputed guidelines calling for less use of mammography, the new recommendations might seem like part of a larger plan to slash cancer screening for women. But the timing was coincidental, said Dr. Cheryl B. Iglesia, the chairwoman of a panel in the obstetricians’ group that developed the Pap smear guidelines. The group updates its advice regularly based on new medical information, and Dr. Iglesia said the latest recommendations had been in the works for several years, “long before the Obama health plan came into existence.”
She called the timing crazy, uncanny and “an unfortunate perfect storm,” adding, “There’s no political agenda with regard to these recommendations.

Guidelines Push Back Age for Cervical Cancer Tests, available here. 

That’s reassuring.  Because we all know that ACOG rarely has a political agenda.

Rightfully so, both reports have created a well-founded suspicion that government rationing of cancer screening is just around the corner.  Even Democrat Senator Arlen Specter labeled the call for cut backs in screening as “curious.”

As Senator Reid’s massive bill comes to a vote this weekend, the nation simply can no longer afford to ignore the rationing of healthcare that is misleadingly referred to as “healthcare reform.”  Apparently, the current leadership believes the government cannot afford to properly screen women for cancer.  It would rather gamble with women’s lives. 

In the balance of cost versus women’s health, women lose.

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