Yesterday, Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz (D-FL), a breast cancer survivor, accused Republicans of politicizing breast cancer. This afternoon, Sen. John Barrasso (R-WY) — a doctor who runs a private orthopedic practice
and serves as Chief of Staff of the Wyoming Medical Center — proved her point. Barrasso called Fox News to register his opposition to the Senate health care bill and argue that the new mammogram guidelines would have pulled the plug on his wife:
And we just saw this past week the first step in rationing of health care in the country with this panel that they have, this preventive panel. A government panel that says women between 40 and 50 shouldn’t have mammograms. You know, my wife Bobbi is a breast cancer survivor. She was diagnosed by a mammogram, went for an operation, the cancer had already spread. The mammogram has saved her life, but yet this preventive panel that the bill says, this health care bill says, ‘oh no, they’re the ones who get to decide what preventive measures are paid for or not.’ That panel would have not allowed her to have this care.
Given Barrasso’s medical background and personal experience with breast cancer, his claim is especially irresponsible. It’s also completely inaccurate. The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an independent panel of experts first convened by the U.S. Public Health Service during the administration of President Ronald Reagan. The panel “is financed by the Department of Health and Human Services but works at arms length from it, making its decisions without consulting the agency.” Panelists are prohibited from “considering costs when they make guidelines.”
Rather than mandating “what preventive measures are paid for or not,” the task force issues recommendations that help doctors decide on a course of treatment. Providers can use the recommendations as a starting point to examine a patient’s particular needs, but the task force has no authority over coverage or treatment decisions.
Barrasso’s wife Bobbi Brown would have received a mammogram regardless of any recommendation. Wyoming, along with 48 other states, requires insurers to cover mammograms and if the Senate bill were to become law all insurers would be required to pay for the procedure.
Under the bill, health insurance issuers would offer “services that have in effect a rating of ‘A’ or ‘B’ in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force” without “any cost sharing requirements.” Last week’s guideline was rated ‘C,’ meaning that the panel “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.”
Ultimately, the Panel’s recommendations are just guidelines, not mandates. They have no authority to “decide what preventive measures are paid for or not.”