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Mammogram guidelines spark debate

By The Associated Press Published: November 23, 2009
WASHINGTON — Lawmakers broke along party lines on a new aspect of the health care debate Sunday as a former National Institutes of Health chief urged women to ignore guidelines that delay the start of breast cancer screenings.

Republicans pointed to the guidelines as evidence the Democrats’ proposals for a health care overhaul would yield limits on mammograms and a rationing of care.

Democrats dismissed those worries and said Republicans were stoking fears without facts.

Under the Democratic plan, a new independent institute would advise the health secretary. However, the health secretary would not be required to deny or extend coverage in a government-backed health plan based on recommendations from the institute.

A government-appointed panel said last week that women generally should begin routine mammograms in their 50s, rather than their 40s — sparking claims that a taxpayer-funded health care option wouldn’t pay for the screenings.

Saving lives or money
"I’m saying very powerfully ignore them, because unequivocally … this will increase the number of women dying of breast cancer,” said Dr. Bernadine Healy, a director of the National Institutes of Health under Republican President George H.W. Bush. "Women in their 40s have a very aggressive kind of breast cancer. They tend to progress fast. And to not screen women in that age group is astounding to me, and it goes against the bulk of individuals who are actually caring for patients.”

A brain cancer patient, Healy added: "You may save some money … but you’re not going to save lives.