There are a lot of worries surrounding this week’s new breast screening guidelines from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Women and their doctors must now decide whether to follow the old recommendations, for annual mammograms after age 40, or the new ones, which call for mammograms to begin at 50 and to take place just every other year.
And what if they choose the old guidelines? Will their insurance companies still cover the cost of annual exams? Will the decade of mammograms between age 40 and 50 be paid for, or will they become out-of-pocket costs for women patients who choose to have them?
So far, so good. USA Today interviewed several of the country’s biggest health insurance companies, all of whom said they would continue to pay for annual mammograms beginning at age 40. Some of the companies interviewed were Kaiser Permanente, Aetna, Cigna, Geisinger Health Plan, Group Health Cooperative and WellPoint, which operates Blue Cross/Blue Shield plans in 14 states.
Nationwide, these plans cover more than 73 million people.
From the USA Today story:
“A spokeswoman for Kaiser Permanente, Farra Levin, says, "We believe that focusing on prevention and early detection is critical in improving women's health and saving lives."
“That doesn't mean that companies are totally ignoring the task force's advice.
“A spokeswoman for WellPoint, Jill Becher, says the company considers the task force's recommendations, but also weighs advice from the American Cancer Society and American College of Obstetrics and Gynecology, which still recommend annual screenings beginning at age 40.
“Group Health Cooperative, among others, plans to look at the task force's recommendations next year, says spokesman Michael Foley, but it would still pay for the screening.”
Secretary of Health and Human Services Kathleen Sebelius has said that government support for annual mammograms after 40 is not changing. Medicare will still pay for one mammogram for women between the ages of 35 to 39 and annual screenings after that.
But it’s clear that there could be changes in this arena.