Why the Mammogram Amendment Might Hurt Health Care Reform

Liberals cheer as the Senate votes for a $940 million amendment, but it isn't likely to help pass reform

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Thursday, the Senate approved the Mikulski amendment, which would force insurance companies to pay for mammograms and preventative screening under the new health care legislation. The 61-39 vote comes on the heels of a heated debate about the effectiveness of mammography in younger women, which gave rise to fears of government rationing under the new health care system. The Wire covered this debate here and here.

While some on the left proclaimed victory after the vote, most commentators were concerned that the amendment--and the three days of ferocious debate it inspired in the senate--was little more than a distraction from the monumental task of overhauling the nation's health care system. And with a CBO-estimated price tag of $940 million over the next decade, the amendment is unlikely to help the final bill move forward. First reactions to the Mikulski amendment:

  • One Victory Down, Two To Go Amie Newman of RH Reality Check, a progressive women's rights blog, says women "can claim a victory for our health care." But she's concerned that nothing in the amendment addresses birth control or abortion coverage. "While the question on everyone's mind is whether or not birth control falls under this list, it seems at the moment there is no clear answer," she writes.
  • What About the Women Without Any Health Care at All? In The New York Times Thursday morning, Gail Collins said the amendment was an expensive distraction. "Especially since, um, right now a lot of women have no health insurance and no mammograms at all," she writes. "The Democrats, terrified by cries of 'rationing!' are now trying to amend the bill to expand insurance coverage of health care screenings for women. Not to be outdone, the Republicans seem bent on making sure that every single 40-year-old woman in America gets a free mammogram even if she never sees a doctor for anything else for the rest of her life."
  • This Is Why the Government Can't Bring Down Costs Tevi Troy of The National Review says "rationing decisions that get raised to national attention, such as the mammogram decision, will be voided by Congress if there is enough of an outcry, but the task force will presumably continue to suggest limits on lesser known, less popular practices." With votes like this, Troy says "the costs of the bill will likely grow so quickly that Congress will have to reopen the issue to limit benefits, increase taxes, or both."
  • Why Is Women's Health Considered a Luxury? Echidne of the Echidne of the Snakes blog smells sexism. "Note how leaving these services out from the initial proposal can then make them into the bugbear that will bankrupt us. It would be interesting to see what other services we could have treated in this manner."
  • Welcome to Government-Run Health Care Reason Magazine's Katherine Mangu-Ward says this vote is a taste of things to come:
While most health care choices will remain outside the political sphere, every time a procedure or drug pops into the news--complete with sob stories featuring bald children and/or adults missing vital parts--we'll get a cycle of senatorial speechifying followed by a vote on a bill or amendment that will circumscribe behavior of doctors, patients, or insurance companies.
This article is from the archive of our partner The Wire.