The U.S. Senate is making increasingly Byzantine backroom deals in an attempt to pass some form of universal health care by the end of the year. But even though the final bill isn’t settled yet, one fact is becoming increasingly clear. Any plan they pass will result in the government seizing an unprecedented degree of control over previously private health spending decisions.
Two of these proposed new controls are worth highlighting, because they are not often discussed in most mainstream media reports.
First, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) will be setting the rules for what sorts of preventive health care insurance companies must offer.
According to Dr. Delia Chiaramonte, the proposed law states:
A group health plan and a health insurance issuer offering group or individual health insurance coverage shall provide coverage for and shall not impose any cost sharing requirements for evidence-based items or services that have in effect a rating of “A” or “B” in the current recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force.
In other words, health insurers must pay for preventive services that the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force (USPSTF) recommends. Such mandated benefits will inevitably raise the costs of health insurance nationwide as they have already done in states like Massachusetts.
The USPSTF is also the government task force that aroused such controversy when it recently recommended restricting screening mammograms to women over age 50, even though professional medical societies such as the American Cancer Society and American College of Radiology have long recommended women undergo routine mammography starting at age 40, based on years of peer-reviewed medical research.
The USPSTF has been sharply criticized for basing its decision on old and unreliable scientific data. But there’s also a more fundamental moral question of whether the federal government should be setting guidelines that essentially put a price on a human life.
The USPSTF argued that eliminating mammograms on women between age 40 and 49 would only result in one additional cancer death per 1,900 women screened — a level they apparently considered acceptable. In contrast, they still supported mammograms for women over age 50 because that would prevent one cancer death per 1,300 women screened.
Hence, the government is saying that it’s “cost-effective” to spend money for a mammogram that will save the life of a 50-year-old woman — but not the life of her 48-year-old younger sister.
Second, government rules may make it more difficult for patients to receive medical care outside of government payment guidelines.