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A Call To Continue Free Mammograms

Published on | Eric Brown

MIKULSKI CALLS ON DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH AND HUMAN SERVICES TO PROTECT ACCESS TO FREE MAMMOGRAMS FOR WOMEN 40 AND OLDER

Currently women aged 40 to 74 are guaranteed an annual free mammogram as result of Senator Mikulski’s ‘Women’s Preventive Health Amendment’ to the Affordable Care Act Draft recommendation by U.S. Preventive Services Task Force threatens access to mammograms for women under 50 that play an important role in the early detection of breast cancer.

Monday, April 20, 2015
WASHINGTON – U.S. Senator Barbara A. Mikulski (D-Md.), Vice Chairwoman of the Senate Appropriations Committee and a senior member of the Senate Health, Education, Labor and Pensions (HELP) Committee, today in a letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services (HHS) Sylvia Mathews Burwell called on the Department to ensure the continued availability of free mammograms for women aged 40 and older, which are currently guaranteed through Senator Mikulski’s ‘Women’s Preventive Health Amendment’ to the Affordable Care Act. The Senator’s urgent request follows today’s release of draft recommendations by the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) that diverges from a previous recommendation that women aged 40 to 74 receive an annual mammogram to screen for breast cancer. This decision, if finalized, would strip away this free preventive health coverage for women age 40-49. A copy of Senator Mikulski’s signed letter is available here.

“We know that early detection of breast cancer offers women their very best chance at a cure and at survival. Mammograms are essential for that early detection. I am requesting that your Department take swift action to reassure the American public that you will do everything within your power to ensure the continued availability of free mammograms for all women aged 40 and older,” Senator Mikulski wrote. “Further, should the USPSTF’s recommendations be finalized, I would strongly urge that all appropriate actions be taken by the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure patients’ previous access to breast cancer screening is not impeded, discouraged, or eliminated. Finally, should the draft recommendation be finalized, I will actively and aggressively pursue all legislative options available to ensure that women aged 40 and older are able to continue receiving free annual mammograms.”

Senator Mikulski championed women’s access to free preventive health care including mammograms through her Mikulski Women’s Preventive Health Amendment to the Affordable Care Act. Senator Mikulski’s amendment required that certain women’s preventive health care be covered by health insurance plans and provided to women with no co-payments or deductibles. As a result of this amendment, women are able to receive free annual preventive care check-ups (including breast exams, pre-conception and prenatal care, pap testing and pelvic exam); screening for gestational diabetes; HPV testing; HIV and STI screening and support; FDA-approved contraception and contraceptive counseling; breastfeeding support, supplies and counseling; and domestic violence screening and counseling.

USPSTF today released draft recommendations for annual preventive health services that diverges from a previous recommendation that women aged 40 to 74 receive an annual mammogram. This announcement comes of the heels of a new report issued today by the National Cancer Institute that the number of American women suffering from breast cancer will increase by 50 percent in the next fifteen years. Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the United States by nearly one-third since 1993. Studies indicate that mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. One in six breast cancers occur in women aged 40-49. Currently, the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American College of Radiology (ACR), and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all recommend that women aged 40 and older should have a mammogram every year.

The letter to Secretary of Health and Human Services Sylvia Mathews Burwell follows:

April 20, 2015

The Honorable Sylvia Mathews Burwell

Secretary

United States Department of Health and Human Services

200 Independence Avenue SW

Washington, DC 20201

Dear Secretary Burwell:

Thanks for all you and your Department have done over the years to improve access to health care for women nationwide. Today, I write urgently to request your assistance in helping to safeguard women’s access to free, annual mammograms.

As you know, the United States Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) has just issued a draft recommendation that could threaten access to important preventive health care for millions of American women. I am requesting that your Department take swift action to reassure the American public that you will do everything within your power to ensure the continued availability of free mammograms for all women aged 40 and older.

We know that early detection of breast cancer offers women their very best chance at a cure and at survival. Mammograms are essential for that early detection. Mammography has helped reduce breast cancer mortality in the United States by nearly one-third since 1990 because it helps detect breast cancer at its earliest stages. In fact, studies indicate that mammograms show changes in the breast up to two years before a patient or physician can feel them. Two years!

It is also important to note that breast cancer afflicts women of all ages. For instance, one in six breast cancers occur in women aged 40-49. That is why the American Cancer Society (ACS), the American College of Radiology (ACR), and the National Comprehensive Cancer Network all recommend that women aged 40 and older should have a mammogram ever year. In addition, the National Institute of Health’s National Cancer Institute’s webpage states that annual mammograms “can help reduce the number of deaths from breast cancer among women ages 40 to 74.”

For all the reasons outlined above, I authored the “Women’s Preventive Health Amendment” during Senate consideration of the Affordable Care Act in 2009. My amendment, which passed with bipartisan support and is now law, ensures that women aged 40 and above are able to receive free annual mammograms. To be clear, my amendment does not mandate that women receive a mammogram at age 40. What it says is this: women should discuss breast cancer and the benefits of mammography with their doctor. If a women and her doctor decide that a mammogram makes sense, my amendment ensures she can get one. For free.

Unfortunately, today’s draft recommendation coming out of the USPSTF threatens to erode the mammogram benefit in current law. If the recommendation is finalized in its current form, the end result would be that only women aged 50 and older would be eligible to receive free mammograms on a biennial basis. I think this recommendation is short-sighted and could potentially put women’s lives at risk. Failing to identify women in their 40s with breast cancer and instead having them wait until age 50 to get a mammogram is not only a disservice, it is a travesty.

Therefore, I would urge you and your Department to explicitly and publicly assure women that Medicare and private insurance coverage for breast cancer screening will not change as a result of the USPSTF’s latest draft recommendations. Further, should the USPSTF’s recommendations be finalized, I would strongly urge that all appropriate actions be taken by the Department of Health and Human Services to ensure patients’ previous access to breast cancer screening is not impeded, discouraged, or eliminated. Finally, should the draft recommendation be finalized, I will actively and aggressively pursue all legislative options available to ensure that women aged 40 and older are able to continue receiving free annual mammograms. Thank you for your attention to this vitally important issue.

Sincerely,

Barbara A. Mikulski

United States Senator


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