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December 03, 2009

Federal Health Panel: Yeah, Never Mind About That Breast Screening Recommendation Thing

After setting off a firestorm of protest, the federal panel that talked down the value of breast cancer screening for women backed off their recommendations.

"The recommendation about breast cancer screening for women 40 to 49 did not say what the task force meant to say. The task force communication was poor," insisted Dr. Diana Petitti with the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force.

The panel also backpedaled by saying it won't recommend against screening.

Petitti said, "We need to immediately figure out how to get that statement off the website."

But Republicans pounced, saying the new "relaxed" guidelines are a glimpse of what new health care legislation will bring to the nation.

"We are willing to accept the higher mortality rate to save money. That's what this report says," stated Republican Congressman Mike Rogers of Michigan.

I guess the science isn't settled here. Or more likely, it was settled but the politics got in the way. So much for Obama's promise to get politics out of science.

Here's the thing...the panel may very well be right from a cost/benefit analysis. That leads to the next point...who cares if they are? As I laid out before, we don't have health care rationing in this country, so if people want to spend money on procedures that may or may not be cost effective over the entire population, it's none of the government's business. If that 'wasted' money buys people peace of mind, then it's not really wasted. They have every right to spend their money and benefits and they want.

Either way, it's none of the government's damn business.

Of course, it will be the government's damn business if the current re-form efforts pass. Decisions like this will become binding under the law. Will that lead to denial of care? Sometimes. Unless you have a powerful political lobby. You know like women.

Sen. Barbara Mikulski has offered an amendment to the Senate health bill that mandates...

… coverage shall, at a minimum provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for—

… ‘‘(4) with respect to women, such additional preventive care and screenings not described in paragraph (1) as provided for in comprehensive guidelines supported by the Health Resources and Services Administration for purposes of this paragraph.’’

As former Bush economic adviser Keith Hennessey points out at the link, this is a government mandate that puts government bureaucrats in charge of what is covered and eliminates any consumer choice.

So you see the cross purposes here. A federal panel wants to cut costs and care, while another part of government is going to react to political pressures and provide strong support for favored groups.

I don't know what the right balance is here but neither does this federal health panel or Sen. Mikulski. Free people, exercising their best judgement will find the right equilibrium between costs and benefits. Right now the disconnect between the benefits received by individuals and the costs paid is too great. Any re-form effort that puts more variables and distortions between people and their own care will only cause more problems.

Congress is taking the Charlie Gibson approach to this issue, "Free markets? Never heard of them".

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posted by DrewM. at 11:39 AM

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