Insured breasts matter more

Every year, for lack of timely screening and treatment, hundreds of women will die of breast cancer. No, I’m not talking about the change in mammography screening guidelines for women aged 40-49. I’m talking about women of any age who will not have access to mammography or treatment if a healthcare reform bill is not passed. Without health insurance, these women will die preventable deaths.

Republicans have exploited the release of the new mammography guidelines to argue that the Obama administration does not care if more women die of breast cancer. Ironically, their opposition to a public option for health insurance virtually condemns up to 600 women per year to die a preventable death from breast cancer. Republicans apparently believe that insured breasts matter more.

That seems a rather bizarre distinction to make. I could understand, though not agree, if they claimed that Republican breasts matter more. They have an interest in making sure that women who will vote for them will live to return to the polls each year. But the distinction between women who are insured and those who are uninsured crosses political lines.

I could understand, though not agree, if Republicans insisted that profits matter more and supported the new guidelines to benefit their friends in Big Insurance who depend upon them to vote against healthcare reform. The US Preventive Services Task Force recommended ending routine yearly mammograms for women aged 40-49 because the data show that the risks of false positives, unnecessary biopsies and unnecessary breast cancer treatment outweigh the benefits. That can only be helpful to insurance companies who can increase profits by reducing marginally effective and ineffective procedures.

But, instead, the Republicans claim to base their opposition to the new screening guidelines on their reverence for life. They insist that President Obama, in a crass effort to save money, is rationing mammography. To hear them tell it, it is worth virtually any amount of money to save even one additional woman from becoming a breast cancer fatality. Yet the reality is that they are only concerned about the breasts already covered by health insurance.

Republicans are apparently unmoved by the fact that up to 600 women die each year because their lack of health insurance prevents timely access to mammograms, diagnostic procedures and breast cancer treatment. Insuring the breasts of the uninsured would have a far larger effect than merely saving those 600 lives (each one of which is supposedly valuable enough to justify the spending of any amount of money). That’s because the benefit would not be limited to preventing deaths from breast cancer. Current estimates suggest that as many as 45,000 people die preventable deaths every year because of lack of health insurance.

Republicans claim to oppose healthcare reform because it is too expensive. But according to them it’s worth almost any amount of money to prevent a single death. They also oppose healthcare reform because they claim it will lead to rationing. But there is no more brutal form of rationing than to ration health insurance itself, giving it arbitrarily to those who happen to work for an employer who chooses to provide access to insurance and denying it to everyone else.

Do insured breasts really matter more? Or are the Republicans hypocritically exploiting women’s fear and misunderstanding over the new guidelines in order to score political points? If Republicans truly care about making sure that not a single woman dies a preventable death from breast cancer, they’d be clamoring for a quick vote on healthcare reform, and they’d vote for a public option as the best way to end preventable deaths from breast cancer.

Otherwise, we’d be forced to conclude that Republicans don’t really care at all about saving lives and are just a bunch of hypocrites using fear mongering to divert attention from their self serving support of the insurance industry. And they wouldn’t want us to reach that conclusion, would they?

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