I listened carefully in my committee last month as the idea that U.S. Preventive Services Task Force decisions resulting in the rationing of health care was said to be a fairy tale.
And yet in the bill that had already passed the House, on page 1762, the same U.S. Preventive Services Task Force was given the authority to determine the “frequency,” “the population to be served,” and “the procedure or technology to be used” for breast cancer screenings covered under the Indian Health Service. Further, Section 303 of the legislation states: “The Commissioner shall specify the benefits to be made available under Exchange participating health plans.”
In plain English, those two sentences mean the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force and the new “health choices commissioner” will determine what preventive services, including mammograms, are covered under the health insurance plan envisioned in the House health care reform bill.
The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force is an outside, independent council of doctors and scientists who make recommendations. They are not supposed to make federal policy or determine what services should be covered by the bill, but the bill makes it plain that their recommendations are going to have the force of law.
I’m familiar with this particular issue from personal, family experience. I have an aunt who passed away in her early 50s as a consequence of breast cancer, and a sister who was diagnosed with breast cancer in her 30s. She’s had proper treatment — a mastectomy — and so far, in the last 10 years, is cancer-free. I have a wife under the age of 50 and she has annual mammograms. And I have a good friend who was just diagnosed with breast cancer who is in her mid-40s. Again, she’s undergoing treatment and hopefully she’s going to have a good outcome.
It is wrong, in my opinion, to have an unelected task force make the recommendations that have already been made, and it is wrong to have in the House health reform bill the authority that’s given to unelected bureaucrats to make health care decisions, including coverage frequency for mammograms.
On a bipartisan basis, the Health Subcommittee and the full Energy and Commerce Committee of the House repeatedly have passed bills increasing and supporting research, prevention, and the early detection of breast cancer. We do it almost every Congress. If we continue to agree rhetorically, then we need to begin to make substantive changes in the pending health care reform legislation to prevent what we all say we oppose.
We don’t ever want rationing of health care in America and we don’t ever want task forces and commissioners to intervene between doctors and patients, in this case because we don’t want women of any age developing breast cancer because they’re not allowed a mammogram.
When my committee considered the health care bill last year, we decided to explicitly prevent this kind of rationing by adopting an amendment offered by U.S. Rep. Mike Rogers (R-Michigan). But when that bill was reported out of the House Rules Committee, the anti-rationing provision had mysteriously disappeared. In the dark of the night, some Democratic staffer or maybe a Democratic member decided the will of the committee didn’t mean anything. Similarly absent is any impediment to the Preventive Services Task Force making policy decisions to be enforced by the health choices commissioner.
Some Democrats call this a fairy tale. But let’s not talk about fairy tales when everyone can read these bills and see what’s there and what’s gone missing. Let’s talk about the facts and the plain English of these bills. And let’s recognize that the House’s health care reform legislation empowers the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force in ways that socialize medicine in our country.