COMMENTS: Mammography Turns Political

The new guidelines recommending that most women should have fewer mammograms starting later in life to screen for breast cancer were the Story of the Day for the third straight day, selected as the lead item on all three newscasts. The federal government intervened with Health Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in effect, contradicting the changes suggested by her own panel of experts: "Our policies remain unchanged. Keep doing what you have been doing for years." Sebelius granted interviews to the two female anchors on duty, Katie Couric on CBS and Ann Curry in the substitute's chair for NBC's Brian Williams as he picked up an award in Arizona named for CBS' Walter Cronkite.

CBS led off with Wyatt Andrews reporting on the political criticism of the Preventive Services Taskforce. "Several" Republicans in Congress "called the new study a glimpse of the rationing and government interference that is coming under Democratic healthcare reform." ABC's John McKenzie picked up on the same undercurrent, noting that the new guidelines match those found in Canada and most of Europe--"countries with nationalized healthcare." NBC's in-house physician Nancy Snyderman described women's reactions to the taskforce: "They are blogging about it, tweeting about it, e-mailing about it."

CBS' Andrews found Republicans "hoping the anger over the guidelines might be used to help kill off healthcare reform" even as he contradicted the basis for such anger: "For most insurance plans if the doctor prescribes a mammogram you are covered."

Enter Health Secretary Sebelius. Is she not "essentially throwing the panel under the bus?" wondered NBC's Curry. "It is an independent body of healthcare providers and scientists," the Secretary answered, fudging the fact that it is federally appointed. "Does this panel not fall under the purview of the Department of Health & Human Services?" inquired CBS' Couric. "It is an independent group of scientists and advisors so they do not work for HHS. They are appointed independently…They have no policymaking authority. We make policy."

Secretary Sebelius professed that "frankly I would be stunned if private insurers change any coverage decisions." CBS' Couric was incredulous. If the panel has decided that screening for low-risk fortysomethings is useless, "why would you think that private insurers will not take advantage of that and stop covering them?"


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