Should Women Wait to Get Mammograms?

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An influential government panel has recommended that women under the age of 50 do not need mammograms, arguing that the harms of early screening outweigh the benefits for women with no increased risk factors. The panel has also recommended that women between the ages of 50 to 74 receive mammograms every two years instead of every year, and found no benefit from self-exams. The new guidelines are a sharp reversal of the longstanding recommendation that women over the age of 40 should receive annual mammograms. The recommendations have angered some doctors, medical advocacy groups such as The American Cancer Society, and pundits, who worry that the findings will be used by insurance companies to cut costs and ration treatment. Here's why the new mammogram guidelines have commentators worried:

  • Doctors Fear the Worst  Time Magazine's Alice Park says cancer doctors are worried women will be dissuaded from getting mammograms altogether, and that insurance companies will use the study as "an excuse" to stop paying for screenings in younger women. "Every time recommendations are changed, or when respected medical organizations endorse conflicting guidelines on issues like screening, say experts, many patients opt out of the controversy altogether, preferring to forgo testing than wade through the confusing information and options presented to them." And at The Los Angeles Times, "nearly uniform in their disparagement of the guidelines, fearing the loss of a valuable cancer-prevention tool. Women in their 40s account for at least a quarter of breast cancer diagnoses."
  • Putting Lives at Risk  Ann Althouse is furious. "Tens of thousands of lives are being saved by mammography screening, and these idiots want to do away with it," she writes.
  • This Has Nothing to Do With Rationing  W.C. Varones at PoliPundit says the study has nothing to do with the health care overhaul. "It’s not about rationing! It’s about saving women from temporary anxiety over false positives. And if other women have to die of breast cancer to prevent that anxiety, well, that’s a small price to pay."
  • The Kind of Rationing We Need  At The Huffington Post, Susan Love says "evidence based" medicine can help save costs and cover more women.
Are these new guidelines an example of rationing? You bet. They are an example of exactly how we need to ration health care, based on science. It is exactly this approach, health care standards by popularity rather than science that raise the cost of medical care in this country. The lack of a "comparative effectiveness" body to come up with recommendations and then enforce them, means that it is the third party payers willingness to pay for procedures that determines the standard of care.
  • Still Want ObamaCare?  Ed Morrissey of Hot Air says a government-run health system will be motivated to "cut costs, not to save lives." Morrissey says "the government will be paying for a lot more of these exams when ObamaCare passes. That will put a serious strain on resources, especially since many of the providers will look to avoid dealing with government-managed care and its poor compensation rates."
  • Will Insurance Companies Stop Covering Mammograms? Rob Stein of The Washington Post says "the new recommendations took on added significance because under health-care reform legislation pending in Congress, the conclusions of the 16-member task force would set standards for what preventive services insurance plans would be required to cover at little or no cost."

This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.