(AP Photo/Alex Brandon)
Recently released breast cancer screening recommendations represent a "step backward" for women's health care and the "slippery slope" health care could take under Democrats' proposed policies, a group of Republican congresswomen said today.
Meanwhile, in response to the concern surrounding the new recommendations, the Obama administration and Democrats in Congress insisted the recommendations will not be used to set policy and criticized Republicans for their "political gamesmanship" on the issue.
"This is how rationing begins. This is the little toe in the edge of the water," said Rep. Marsha Blackburn (R-Tenn.) at a press conference on Capitol Hill. "This is when you start getting a bureaucrat between you and your physician. This is what we have warned about."
(The above photograph shows, from left to right, Reps. Cathy McMorris Rodgers (R-Wash.), Sue Myrick (R-N.C.) and Blackburn.)
At issue are the new recommendations
from the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force, which concluded that it is not worth it for women to perform breast self-exams or to get routine mammograms before reaching the age of 50. The task force is an independent group of 16 experts put together by the Department of Health and Human Services.
HHS Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement
earlier today that said the task force is only putting forward new information and does not set policy or determine what services the government covers. She also said she would be very surprised if any private insurance companies changed their mammography policies because of the recommendations.
Still, Rep. Jean Schmidt (R-Ohio) said today that she feared health insurance companies would change their policies. Furthermore, she said, she feared that such studies would be used to set policy in the national health insurance exchange that would be set up and run by HHS if Democrats are able to pass their health care bill.
"The rules of what will be required to go into the exchange have yet to be written," Schmidt pointed out. The nonpartisan Congressional Budget Office has estimated about 30 million Americans could receive their coverage through the exchange.
Schmidt called the task force recommendations an "unfair study that doesn't tell the truth about early detection."
Rep. Candice Miller (R-Mich.) called the recommendations "a huge step backward" that puts the nation on a "slippery slope" to discouraging screening for other diseases based on cost rather than medical need. The Democratic health care plan would particularly encourage this, the lawmakers said.
"Women in particular may lose a great deal of clout in decision making," said Rep. Michele Bachmann (R-Minn.). "We don't know how far government will go in this bureaucracy."
Republicans, Bachmann said, "want to empower women... We want to have all the data on the table so individuals can make the best decision they can."
To rebut the Republican criticisms, Democratic Rep. Rosa DeLauro (Conn.) released a statement saying that the task force recommendations do just that -- give women more information with which to make decisions.
"If we can cut through the Republicans' political gamesmanship on this issue, the new breast cancer recommendations, as always, were an attempt to put the best possible evidence in the hands of women and their doctors, so they can assess their own risk and benefit," DeLauro said.
She listed ways in which the Democrats' health care bill would help women, such as barring the denial of coverage due to a pre-existing conditions like breast cancer. The Republican health care bill
, she pointed out, does not accomplish that.
"The Republican health care plan does nothing to stop premium discrimination against women, does nothing to end denials based on pre-existing conditions, does nothing to make breast cancer care more affordable, and in fact does not even change the percentage of uninsured Americans," she said.Come back to CBSNews.com at 7 p.m. ET tonight for a live discussion on the mammogram recommendations with CBS News medical correspondent Dr. Jon LaPook and Dr. Freya Schnabel, Director of Breast Surgery, NYU Langone Medical Center and Professor of Surgery NYU School of Medicine.More Coverage:Sebelius: Mammogram Recommendations Won't Set PolicyNew Advice: Skip Mammograms in Your 40sNew Mammogram Advice Sparks ConcernsMammogram Guideline ControversyExperts Debate New Mammogram Guidelines