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Women shocked by breast screening guidelines

November 18, 2009 12:00:00 AM PST
Women have been calling their doctors expressing confusion, shock and rage over new breast screening guidelines that suggest women wait until 50 to get their first mammogram. Will insurance companies eventually stop paying for these yearly tests? Many women and their doctors remain on guard. Yearly mammograms give Elaine Valles peace of mind. Now she fears her ability to be proactive about her health is in peril.

"I'm concerned that they're going to limit my accessibility to have mammograms and other tests that I might need," said Valles.

Dr. Christy Russell with the American Cancer Society says many women are expressing frustration about the new guidelines.

"Everybody's confused on this point," said Dr. Russell. "I think the American Cancer Society will remain steadfast in recommendation."

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius responded to concerns Wednesday. She says the U.S Preventive Task Force does not determine federal policy and it does not determine what services the federal government covers.

"I would be very surprised if any private insurance companies changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action," said Sebelius.

Longtime women's health advocate state Senator Carol Liu says women need to remain vigilant about their preventive care. She's worried women in underserved communities may end up having even less access to care.

"You need to seek out your physician and have that conversation about risk and make up your own mind as to whether or not you want to pursue it," said Dr. Liu.

Most big insurance companies like Aetna, PacificCare and Anthem Blue Cross told Eyewitness News that they don't anticipate any immediate changes to their polices, which generally cover annual mammograms for women beginning at age 40.

However, most insurance companies say they will be reviewing the recommendations.

The American Cancer Society says it will do its best to convince insurance companies to stick to current policies. But women like Elaine Valles fear in the end it'll all be about money.

"I understand that everybody has to look at the bottom line and I don't want the humanity of us to be lost as they look at the dollar," said Valles.

The American Cancer Society says their lobbyists will begin to educate legislators and insurers in an effort to reinforce their position.


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