Philip Maddocks: Republicans urge task force to release more guidelines for them to attack
Saying that a federal task force’s new recommendations on breast cancer screening had confirmed the worst fears of people who oppose a government role in medical decision making, Republicans in Congress argued for the release of even more controversial findings from the group.
"This is no time for silence," said one lawmaker. "If this is the best they have got, well, so be it. But if they have something that could add to the debate, especially if it is something that can be taken out of context from its original meaning and twisted in an unintended way, then we want to hear about it."
The congressman said he was hopeful that the task force — the United States Preventive Services Task Force, an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations — may have researched data on other hot-button topics such as abortion, euthanasia, socialism, "and maybe Barack Obama’s birth place."
While acknowledging that the guidelines released on Monday by the task force — saying that most women should start routine breast cancer screening at age 50 rather than 40, as is now the standard — is not government policy and is not enforceable, some Republican lawmakers said they were confident they would be able to use the findings to influence the health-care reform debate.
"It’s an example of how government-run decisions could be made," said one woman representative, who gathered other female members of her caucus on Capitol Hill Wednesday to condemn the task force’s findings while also calling for the group to release more potentially inflammatory studies. "What you get is a group of eminently qualified physicians and scientists who will thoroughly, openly, and dispassionately analyze medical data with the goal of improving the level and effectiveness of health care delivery. Just the possibility of this happening should be enough to scare any real American who hasn’t the foggiest understanding of statistical analysis and until possibly this week had never heard of biomedical informatics — at least this is what we are counting on."
"This is the little toe in the water and this is how you start getting physicians and research scientists between you and your health care," said another lawmaker.
"We shouldn’t depend on a task force of appointed specialists to tell us what to do," said still another representative. "They may understand the science, but we understand what makes us feel good. My concern is we are rationing our health care decisions to only those who understand the science. Where does that leave the rest of us?"
While seeking to downplay the arguments that the panel’s recommendations presaged the workings of the proposed health care reform bills currently before legislators, the White House also sought to distance itself from the task force’s findings.
The office of Kathleen Sebelius, the secretary of health and human services, urged the Preventive Services Task Force to continue what it has been doing for years, which is mostly remain out of the public spotlight.
"Talk to your fellow doctors, ask questions, consult a ouija board, and make the decision that is right for you, but just don’t share it with the public," the statement read. "Remember, we’re behind you 100 percent, except when it comes to following your recommendations."
Republican lawmakers, meanwhile, praised the Preventive Services Task Force for having the courage to step forward and introduce cancer screening guidelines that have produced bipartisan fears and portend medical rationing.
"I couldn’t have done a better job of it myself," said one congressional leader, who urged the task force to get to work on finding data that would lead to recommendations against individual automobile ownership and being happy.
"I know the science is out there," he said. "We just have to find it and attack it."
Philip Maddocks can be reached at email@example.com.