Dec. 2, 2009— -- Put in the hot seat today about mammography guidelines released last month, members of the panel that wrote them said at least one controversial recommendation had been "misconstrued."
Appearing at a Congressional hearing, they apologized for the confusion the guidelines have created and said the statement would be removed from the panel's Web site.
"The recommendation about breast cancer screening for women 40 to 49 did not say what the task force meant to say. The task force communication was poor," said Dr. Diana Petitti, vice-chairwoman of the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, an independent panel of health-care experts commissioned by the Department of Health and Human Services.
But Republicans were not in a forgiving mood about the panel's report.
"It clearly ... recommends against routine screening mammography between the ages of 40 to 49 years. Do you think that this statement could be perceived by women younger than 50 that they should not get a mammogram?" asked Rep. Phil Gingrey, R-Ga.
"We need to immediately figure out how to get that statement off the Web site," Petitti replied. "I think it could be misconstrued. It has been misconstrued and we need to fix our Web site."
The panel now says, based on the evidence, screening women in their 40s should not be automatic, but it should not be denied either.
"Many doctors and many women, perhaps even most women, will decide to have mammography screening at age 40. The task force supports those decisions," Petitti said.
"Do any of you [panel members] know an individual who has been diagnosed for cancer between the ages of 40 and 49? Personally?" Rep. John Shimkus, R-Ill., asked.
"I know many individuals who have been diagnosed with cancer between the ages of 40 and 49," Petitti said.
Republicans argued the new relaxed guidelines are all about saving money and a glimpse of what new health care legislation will bring.
"We are willing to accept that more women will be diagnosed later on, later stages of cancer, we are willing to accept the higher mortality rate to save money?" asked Rep. Mike Rogers, R-Mich. "That's what this report says. And that's what we are getting ready to foist on the American people. That is not a scare tactic. That's reality and it happens in great Britain and it happens in Canada and it happens in France and what we are saying is that we can, and should, do better."
But the panel members denied health costs were a factor in the mammography guidelines they released last month.
"We voted them without regard to cost and cost-effectiveness analysis," Petitti said. "I can say honestly that the word cost was not in the room, was not mentioned, was not uttered."
Democrats Defend Obama's Health Care Plan
Democrats insisted the guidelines had nothing to do with President Obama's push for health care reform.
"Their deliberations were done under the previous administration, before President Obama was even president of the U.S." said Rep. Frank Pallone, D-N.J.
But Republicans today warned of the vast power the task force would gain from health care reform being signed into law.
"Under this bill, the recommendation of this task force would become binding law, and if so, it would be devastating to access to mammograms and nothing short of catastrophic for women's health in this country," said Rep. John Shadegg, R-Ariz.
Rep. John Dingell, D-Mich., the longest serving member in the history of the House of Representatives, said the health-care bill does not use recommendations from any task forces to suppress treatment or interfere with the relationship between the patients and their doctors.
"This is the kinds of scare tactics I've heard from that side of the aisle with great personal offense," Dingell said.
"They talk about how we're going to pull the plug on Grandma, how we're going to push euthanasia forward, how we're going to deny health care," he said. "These recommendations are recommendations -- nothing more, and to say anything different than that is either to transmit the grossest kind of carelessness ... or just plain outright deceit."
The panel members said they did not come to Congress to get involved in health care legislation, but to try -- yet again -- to clear up the mess their guidelines have created.