Monday, November 23, 2009

New women's health guidelines leave many questioning their coverage

Last week's double announcement from two separate leading health panels scaling back the frequency of cancer screenings for women left many questioning their own preventive care and insurance coverage.

New guidelines for mammograms issued last Monday from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force pushes the recommended date for a woman's first mammogram from 40 to 50 years old.

Four days later, the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists announced that women should delay their first Pap test until age 21, and every two years after that.

Health insurers, including Medicare, say they're unlikely to change coverage for cancer screenings, pointing to other guidelines from such groups as the Amercian Cancer Society -- which urges more frequent screening.

If the clinical guidelines do eventually change, health plans may change their benefits for routine mammography and pap smears to reflect the new guidelines, but this would be phased in over time. But Washington women have extra protection. State law requires insurers to cover mammograms if recommended by the patient's provider.

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