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Sebelius: Mammogram Recommendations Won't Set Policy

(AP Photo/Jacquelyn Martin)
Updated at 6:30 p.m. EST

A new set of breast cancer screening recommendations has caused some anxiety for women, leaving them wondering whether or not to schedule regular mammograms or whether the new recommendations will impact their insurance policies.

Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius issued a statement on Wednesday to address the confusion, saying that the recommendations will not impact government policy and should not impact private insurers' policies, two concerns voiced by Republicans today. She added that mammograms remain an important live-saving tool.

In an interview with CBS News anchor Katie Couric Sebelius said that she wasn't refuting the recommendations, but that women should "do what they've always done" and talk to their doctors about health care decisions.

"It's one panel of scientists and heath officials who have actually waded into an area where the recommendations have gone back and forth for years," Sebelius told Couric. "Unfortunately, there remains a lot of confusion about what age is the appropriate age to begin routine screening."

Watch Couric's full interview with Sebelius:

Earlier this week, the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force issued new guidelines that recommend against both routine mammograms for women younger than 50 and breast self-exams. The independent panel concluded these screening procedures have been causing too many false alarms and unneeded biopsies without substantially improving women's odds of surviving the disease.

"The U.S. Preventive Task Force is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations," Sebelius said in her statement. "They do not set federal policy, and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government."

"There has been debate in this country for years about the age at which routine screening mammograms should begin, and how often they should be given," the secretary added. "The Task Force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged. Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action."

What is clear, Sebelius said, is the need for more research and innovation in breast cancer prevention, detection and treatment.

"Mammograms have always been an important life-saving tool in the fight against breast cancer and they still are today," she said. "Keep doing what you have been doing for years - talk to your doctor about your individual history, ask questions and make the decision that is right for you."

Some opponents of the current health care reform plans in Congress are concerned such findings could be used to set standards for health insurance coverage under the Democrats' proposed overhaul, the Washington Post reports.

Also watch last night's 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:

New Advice: Skip Mammograms in Your 40s
New Mammogram Advice Sparks Concerns
Mammogram Guideline Controversy
Experts Debate New Mammogram Guidelines