Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Mammograms and the $

For years, the American Cancer Society, the AMA, and health care professionals have all agreed that once a woman reached her 40th birthday, it was wise for her to have an annual mammogram. With the invention of the mammogram, detection of breast cancer in its earlier stages became a reality and countless women's lives were saved as a result.

Now, a government task force directed by the Obama administration has proclaimed that this is no longer a good idea. In fact, the task force stated that a woman really doesn't need to have an annual mammogram until age 50. Citing the number of false positives that mammograms have produced and the related expenses in treating what was thought to have been cancer, this would be a good move not only from a health standpoint but from an economic stance as well.

Doctors and other health professionals throughout the country have uniformly risen up and condemned this suggestion. They say the whole notion for a woman to postpone an annual mammogram until age 50 is preposterous. Too many women while in their 40's have had the dreaded disease detected by the test and would simply not be around these days had these guidelines been accepted as the conventional wisdom of the day. The outcry against this notion was so deafening that Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius declared that Medicare would continue to pay for mammograms and she was certain that private insurers would continue to do so as well. Many of those insurance companies have affirmed that there will be no policy changes in regards to the coverage provided for mammograms.

We have witnessed several issues in this discussion started by the task force's declaration. One of the most obvious is that this is just the beginning of government sponsored health care. This idea has been roundly shouted down across the board and the panel who made this suggestion has little, if any, credibility left. This event, I believe, has served as a sort of trial balloon by the administration who is now on the brink of bringing state sponsored health care to the American people. The task force did not have the authority to make their suggestion law. It is merely a recommendation. However, in the future, similar government panels will be put in place to control costs. It will be subtle and barely noticed at first. But it will happen. This leads to another, even more important issue.

Life, now more than ever, has a price on its head. We are beginning to no longer consider certain medical treatments only on the basis of their ability to heal and sustain life but as to how much they will cost and will the efforts extended by such treatments be productive. This is more frightening than any other prospect. No price tags have been affixed to an individual life and it is doubtful that this would ever take place. However, it is conceivable to think that medical decisions will be made within a bureaucratic setting where economy may override health. This diminishes the value of life. How would it ever be possible to formulate guidelines that would set standards for when care should be provided or withheld? Who would determine this?

Health care by government bureaucracy is not an improvement over the current system. There are those who claim that the private insurers already practice a form of bureaucratic administration of health care benefits. While this may be true to a certain extent, it is nowhere near how a governmental bureaucracy would run things. There would be more regulations than anyone could ever possibly keep track of. Look at the tax code for an example. Who really understands that and how smoothly is it administered?

The health of our nation is threatened by this new form of health insurance. Thankfully, the medical community and insurance community have come together in the great mammogram debacle and have stood squarely against the task force's recommendations. But if, and when, national health insurance becomes a reality, who will stand then for common sense approaches to medicine and medical care? The action taken by the task force is but a foreshadowing of how things might be in the near future where decisions about medical procedures that will directly effect your families and friends will be determined by a governmental official.