US Health Secretary has sought to allay fears that mammograms won't be covered by Medicaid and declared there is no change in the government policy on the issue.
Following the release of the report of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggesting mammogram before the age of 50 was unnecessary, there was widespread concern. Oncologists and gynecologists stressed mammogram screening was warranted by the age of 40 for any woman.
Reacting to the controversy, Health secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement, saying,
"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."
Asserting the recommendations "cannot be used to deny treatment" on their own, Sebelius told CNN the task force won't make coverage decisions.
It is only "making recommendations, not coverage decisions, not payment decisions."
Government health programs such as Medicaid will continue to cover routine mammograms, she said.
"We will continue to recommend it, and the health plans have indicated that they will do the same," Sebelius said. "If the health care provider recommends a mammogram for a patient, they intend to cover that payment."
"Mammograms have been a huge step forward for millions of American women, but we still have about 21 million women and girls in America who don't have a doctor, who don't receive any kind of mammogram screening on any kind of basis regardless of their age," she noted.