Wednesday, July 11, 2012

Obamacare’s Prevention Priorities: Mammograms, No; Jungle Gyms, Yes

Last week, the New York Times reported on a study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, which found that the number of women in their 40s obtaining mammograms declined “in the year after an expert panel’s recommendation that women delay regular breast cancer screenings until age 50.”  The “expert panel” in question is the US Preventive Services Task Force – referenced 21 different times in Obamacare, and granted the power by the law to set federal coverage standards for preventive coverage by insurers.

The Mayo study leads to the unsurprising conclusion that if a government board decides a treatment is not “approved,” people will receive less of that treatment.  Empowering a government board will decrease access to preventive care screenings, as insurance companies will likely follow the directives of a federally-backed panel.  So rather than keeping choices between patients and doctors, Washington has effectively short-circuited that process, because the rulings of a government board will lead insurance companies to stop covering preventive treatments.

Unfortunately, it’s not just access to mammograms that may be affected – prostate cancer screening may well be next.  Earlier this year, the US Preventive Services Task Force released its final recommendations regarding prostate cancer screening.  Even before the Task Force’s draft recommendations were issued last October, insurers were already re-evaluating whether or not to cover screening tests in light of the Task Force’s decision.

Yet even as the recommendations from the Preventive Services Task Force have reduced the use of preventive care screenings, the Administration has been promoting “preventive services” elsewhere.  Over the past several months, HHS has been handing out grants from Obamacare’s prevention new “slush fund” to finance things like jungle gyms, bike paths, and crosswalks.  So when it comes to prevention funding from this Administration, the mantra appears to be “Mammograms, no; jungle gyms, yes!”