During an appearance on This Week with George Stephanopoulos, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), a breast cancer survivor, strongly criticized Republicans for suggesting that the new mammogram guidelines released by the Preventive Task Force last week would restrict access to cancer diagnosis. “What’s unfortunate is that, the Republicans and Ms. Blackburn, have for the first time politicized breast cancer,” she said.
In the exchange below, Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-TN) repeatedly misquoted the House health care bill to suggest that the Task Force’s guidelines would become law:
BLACKBURN: The guidelines that came out this week, by the Preventive Services Task Force, have a direct link to what would be offered if the House and the Senate bills were to go into law…if you go to page 1296 of the House bill, the engrossed copy…They become the law. They become the law. The mandate…. When you look at what’s going to happen with these 118 new bureaucracies on what insurances can be offered, and what’s going to be paid, you know that this is the bureaucrat in the exam room. This is how it’s going to happen. This is the first step.
In reality, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of experts in primary care and prevention. The panel offers evidence-based guidelines and issues recommendations on a scale of A to D (and even I) for providers to consider when treating patients. Grades A and B indicate that “there is high certainty that the net benefit is substantial” and suggest that providers “offer or provide this service.” Grade C “recommends against routinely providing the service” but stipulates that doctors should “offer or provide this service only if other considerations support the offering or providing the service in an individual patient.” Generally, all of these guidelines are a single piece of scientific data that could help guide physicians in treating individual patients. They are not binding.
The House and Senate health care bills only include “services recommended with a grade of A or B by the Task Force on Clinical Preventive Services” in standard benefit packages, but even these guidelines could be expanded by the Secretary of Health and Human Services. Last week’s mammogram guideline would not be included in the packages. It received a ‘C’ rating from the Task Force.
Ultimately, as Congresswoman Wasserman-Schultz points out, Republicans are manipulating the Task Force decision to scare women into opposing a health reform package that expands access to screenings. The legislation requires insurance companies to cover mammograms and other cancer screenings at no additional cost, ends unfair insurer price discrimination against women and guarantees that all health insurers provide women with the health care services they need.