Mammogram guidelines spark health care debate

November 24, 2009 6:13:40 PM PST
Health care reform proposed by the government means your insurance company could stop covering some of the tests.

The Preventive Service Task Force recommendations say that most women under 50 don't need a mammogram. It turns out that within the health care reform bill as currently written, those recommendations would be more than just recommendations.

Mandisa Brooks signed in for a mammogram exam. She is 34 years old.

"Well, because I found a lump that I was concerned about and my mom was diagnosed with breast cancer at 42," she said.

Under the task force recommendations announced earlier this month, Brooks' mother would never have been checked.

"And being diagnosed at 42 and not having a history, I would be dead today," said cancer survivor Gail Bishop who believes the recommendations are horrible.

When the recommendations came out, Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius was quick to say they didn't represent the administration's point of view.

"Do what you've always done, talk to your doctor, figure out your own health situation," said Sebelius.

But what Sebelius didn't say is that the task force and its recommendations are actually part of the health care bill.

In the House version, the task force recommendations would likely mean that mammograms for women under 50 would not be covered.

"We found small curable cancers in women between the ages of 40 to 49," said Dr. Jessica Leung, medical director at California Pacific's Breast Health Center, where 150 women a day get screened for breast cancer.

In fact Dr. Leung says a quarter of the cancers found at the center are found in women under 50.

This past Sunday, when Republican Congresswoman Marsha Blackburn of Tennessee read the provision of the health care bill that sets out the task force recommendations, Florida Democratic Congresswoman Debbie Wasserman-Schultz argued that it would not limit coverage.

"This task force's recommendations are simply recommendation. They aren't controlling. They aren't going to be binding. They're recommendations," said Wasserman-Schultz on ABC's This Week with George Stephanopoulus.

Wasserman-Schultz has now changed her mind. She told Stephanopoulos that the language needs to come out of the bill, so that the task force recommendations will not be controlling coverage in the final version.


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