Members of a House committee on Wednesday said they want the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force to invite more input to ensure its guidance, which can influence how much an insurer pays for preventive services, is independent and unbiased.
During a hearing held by the House Energy and Commerce Committee's Subcommittee on Health, GOP lawmakers took turns expressing concern that patient access was being affected by the panel's efforts to control costs.
“We want to make sure that the advice and the guidance that is there is appropriate,” said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) who co-sponsored a bill that would require USPSTF to “include balanced representation of practicing primary and specialty care providers.”
The task force recommends what and how often preventive services such as breast and prostate cancer screenings should take place, has come under fire because its guidance sometimes differs from advice given by physician specialty groups. Critics contend the panel's focus on avoiding overtreatment could hinder the benefit of early detection.
The House calls for an advisory board to make sure federal agencies and stakeholders are offering input. It also asks that past recommendations be weighed against new evidence.
USPSTF Chairperson Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, herself a cardiovascular epidemiologist, told lawmakers the panel already consults with specialty physicians and argued that cost doesn't factor into group's recommendations. The group is comprised of 16 volunteers who practice family medicine, geriatrics, internal medicine, pediatrics, obstetrics and gynecology, and nursing.
“We believe that the independence of our task force and having an independent body to evaluate science is essential,” Bibbins-Domingo said. “The science is what's foundational to our work.”
The Task Force has issued guidelines on preventive services since 1984. But in 2010, the stakes became higher after the Affordable Care Act mandated insurers provide first-dollar coverage of preventive health services that received an “A” or “B” grade.
Since then, leading medical organizations and patient advocacy groups have debated the weight of the task force's decisions.
One of the most notable examples was in January, when the group reaffirmed its 2009 breast cancer screening guidelines that called for routine mammograms once every two years for at-risk women between the ages of 50 and 74.
That advice countered the American Cancer Society's, which was to begin annual screening at age 45 until age 54, and then transition to biennial screening after 55.
The USPSTF guidelines also differ from the American College of Obstetricians and Gynecologists and the American College of Radiology which both recommends annual screenings begin at age 40.