Medicare, the federal insurance program for seniors, spent about $1 billion in 2006- 07 to pay for breast cancer screening, according to a new study. This number was almost as much as Medicare spent to actually treat the disease.
Dr. Cary Gross, the study s lead author, and colleagues from Yale University tracked over 100,000 women over 66 years of age who did not have breast cancer in the period 2006-2007, using a database of Medicare claims. For women ages 50-74, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recommends mammograms every other year; they also recommend cessation of mammography screening for over-75s. During this time period, Medicare spent $1.36 billion on breast cancer treatments and $1.08 billion on screening. Also, the price of breast cancer screening in different regions of the country varied quite a bit, ranging from $42 to $107 per patient.
Dr. Jeanne Mandelblatt from Georgetown University believes that this cost range is a result of the fact that many doctors are using digital mammography, despite any evidence that it s better than the less-expensive film mammography for Medicare-age women. And Dr. Gross adds, For me, this is really a call for ramping up our research efforts of how we screen older women for breast cancer and whether it s effective.
ACSH s Dr. Gilbert Ross pointed out the recent controversies over the risk/benefit equation for routine screening mammography, focusing on the Medicare population: Many of the screenings done were probably unnecessary, and could have been avoided if the guidelines were adhered to. On the other hand, I have a big problem with the advice to suspend mammograms for women over age 74, many of whom are quite healthy and active and have many years of life expectancy ahead.