Despite the chaos that currently defines federal policy on health care, buried in the recently passed congressional budget is an important if transient boost for women’s health. Specifically, insurance companies must continue to cover annual breast cancer screening for women ages 40 and over.
Before 2009, breast cancer screening guidelines were fairly uniform in America, with most health care institutions supporting annual screening based on decades of research that clearly demonstrate a substantial reduction in breast cancer deaths for those who participate in screening. In 2009, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force changed its recommendations to reduce the number of mammograms offered and the eligible age range. The new evidence introduced in making these changes? None. The number of breast cancer specialists on the task force? Zero. The significance of task force recommendations is that health insurance entities, including Medicare, use them to determine what will and will not be covered.
Recognizing the weakness of the task force guidelines, Congress imposed a two-year moratorium on their implementation in 2015. That moratorium has been extended until January 2019. Meanwhile, the evidence continues to mount in favor of robust screening. For example, a study published in 2014 involving some 2.8 million Canadian women ages 40-79 demonstrated a 40 percent reduction in breast cancer deaths for women who participate in screening.
The reprieve is important but temporary. I encourage readers to contact their congressmen on this matter so that adequate access to breast cancer screening is preserved.
Kelly Biggs, M.D.,