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White House Breast Guidelines Not Policy

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Health and Human Services secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday sought to stop controversial new guidelines for breast cancer screening from derailing the White House effort for health care reform, saying the recommendations issued by an outside panel do not represent official government policy.

Whereas women over 40 years old were previously advised to get annual mammograms to detect breast cancer, new guidelines issued by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force suggest that only women between the ages of 50 and 74 get mammograms every other year. The guidelines also discourage the long-recommended practice of breast self-examinations.

The changes sparked concerns about the "rationing" of health care, according to The Washington Post, particularly because under the health care reform legislation pending in Congress, the task force's recommendations would factor into determinations about what basic coverage insurance companies need to provide under preventive services.

"Some have questioned whether the guidelines are related to the health-care reform debate and efforts to save money by rationing care -- allegations the panel strongly denied," the Post reported.

Sebelius sought to quell that concern in a statement, according to the Post.

"Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, in a written statement, said the new guidelines had 'caused a great deal of confusion and worry among women and their families across this country,' and she stressed that they were issued by 'an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who ... do not set federal policy and ... don't determine what services are covered by the federal government.'"

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