Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius released a statement of thinly veiled criticism toward those new guidelines from the US Preventive Services Task Force on breast cancer screening:
“There is no question that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force Recommendations have caused a great deal of confusion and worry among women and their families across this country. I want to address that confusion head on. The U.S. Preventive Task Force is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations. They do not set federal policy and they don’t determine what services are covered by the federal government.
“There has been debate in this country for years about the age at which routine screening mammograms should begin, and how often they should be given. The Task Force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged. Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action.
“What is clear is that there is a great need for more evidence, more research and more scientific innovation to help women prevent, detect, and fight breast cancer, the second leading cause of cancer deaths among women.
“My message to women is simple. Mammograms have always been an important life-saving tool in the fight against breast cancer and they still are today. Keep doing what you have been doing for years — talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions, and make the decision that is right for you.”
Considering the role of the HHS Secretary in setting which procedures will be covered under the minimum benefits package, and possibly what will be exempt from cost sharing, it’s notable that she is distancing herself so swiftly from the recommendations. In fact, she’s signaling that the old rules would apply on federal coverage, and presumably on insurance plans as well. However, the USPSTF does at least have some role in the House health care bill, mainly on cost sharing, and if more evidence and study is needed on this point, it calls into question why they are empowered at all.