Taking aim at recommendations that would reduce the number of mammograms that women can get with no copay, U.S. Rep. Debbie Wasserman Schultz reintroduced legislation to bolster women’s access to breast cancer screenings.
Wasserman Schultz, who was diagnosed with cancer at age 41, said that women between the ages of 40 and 49 should not face any barrier to routine mammograms. But the Affordable Care Act requires that insurers completely cover just those screenings that get at least a “B” from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. And mammograms for women in their 40s get a “C” from the USPSTF, which is a panel of experts that gives evidence-based recommendations for what screenings are worthwhile.
Not covering the screening would be harmful, Wasserman Schultz said. She and Republican U.S. Rep. Fred Upton reintroduced the Protecting Access to Lifesaving Screenings (PALS) Act in the House on Wednesday. And companion legislation has been introduced by U.S. Sen. Dianne Feinstein, a California Democrat, and U.S. Sen. Marsha Blackburn, a Tennessee Republican.
“The notion that breast cancer is a risk only for older people puts young women at risk of not getting a screening that could save their lives. The USPSTF guidelines would exacerbate this problem by discouraging women from getting potentially lifesaving mammograms and putting them at risk of losing insurance coverage for screenings,” Wasserman Schultz said. “ … I know firsthand the importance of ensuring young women have access to the tools and information they need regarding their breast health.”
Weighing the harm of the screening against its lifesaving power, the USPSTF gives a “B” grade to mammograms once every two years, rather than annually, for women, ages 50 to 74.
A lobbying effort extended the requirement that insurers pay 100% of routine breast cancer screening for women in their 40s and annual mammograms for women, 50 to 74. That extension expires on Jan. 1, 2023, according to Wasserman Schultz’s office.
The USPSTF’s recommendations send the wrong message, Wasserman Schultz said, according to a news release.
Not starting screening until age 50, and then only once every two years is at odds with clinical experts and leading clinical organizations for women’s health, according to Wasserman Schultz’s office. The American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, the National Comprehensive Cancer Network, and the American College of Radiology/Society for Breast Imaging. Those organizations all recommend annual breast screening at age 40. More than 45,000 women in their 40s were diagnosed with breast cancer in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society.