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November 19th, 2009
08:27 AM ET

Dear President Obama #304: Bungling the breast cancer report

Reporter's Note: President Obama is still abroad, but as is so often the case, things a heating up at home. Never one to run from a fire, I’ll toss another letter to the White House into the blaze.

Tom Foreman | BIO
AC360° Correspondent

Dear Mr. President,

Well, as sure as if you’d left an iron on when you took off for your travels, all heck has broken loose here. And the issue is women’s health. In case you have not picked up a newspaper from back home, a task force operating under the umbrella of the Health and Human Services Department has recommended what adds up to a significant scaling back of mammograms to detect breast cancer in the younger portion of middle-aged women.

They’ve offered all sorts of explanations about how the tests cause anxiety, and often have to be redone, and yadda, yadda, yadda. What they have not explained well enough, however, is why they didn’t do a better job consulting with the nation’s top cancer prevention groups before throwing this bombshell. Nor have they effectively refuted the claims of critics (some with pretty impressive diplomas on their walls) who say this is simply putting cost and convenience above the value of lives.

Secretary Sebelius has gone into damage control, clearly trying to distance your team from the whole mess and encouraging women of all ages to continue getting mammograms. But some of the damage may already be done. First, because the whole episode seemed shadowed by a cloud of incompetence, and frankly after the swine flu vaccine problems you (let alone Sebelius!) don’t need it.

Second, it makes it look like the government does not take women’s health seriously enough. And remember, many women are already screaming over that deal that was struck in the House to allow anti-abortion rights language into the health care bill.

And third, no matter what the folks connected with the panel say now, they have tossed a big, fat softball right over the plate by appearing to place cost savings ahead of the health of Americans. Seriously, is that what you needed as this health care reform measure steams toward the station?

Whether these impressions are fair or accurate or not may not actually matter with voters; the sheer politics of this is a keg of dynamite in a room full of sparklers. Need I remind you, that female voters are the cornerstone of Democratic power these days?

Call if you want an up to the minute update from the battlefront; uh, but if my wife answers, you might want to claim you’ve dialed a wrong number. I’m just saying.

Regards,

Tom

Follow Tom on Twitter @tomforemancnn.

Find more of the Foreman Letters here.

soundoff (12 Responses)
  1. Michael from Richmond, VA

    To think that Insurance companies aren't going to run with this report, you must be crazy. "The government recommends mammograms starting at age 50... sorry but your 45 so if you want that done you'll have to pay for it yourself as it is not covered until age 50." Heck, they don't even want you doing self-exams because they are afraid you might find something and then there will be a problem with getting the test paid for.

    Wake up America... there is still time to get the Senate to kill this HealthCare reform bill before the government has full control over your treatment decisions!!!

    November 19, 2009 at 3:56 pm |
  2. steve- virginia beach, va

    It just occurred to me that when Obama first started trying to sell us on his healthcare ideas, he told us an emotional story about his mother dying of cancer unable to get the healthcare he needed. And now this mammogram issue. Makes me wonder what his agenda really is.

    November 19, 2009 at 3:39 pm |
  3. steve- virginia beach, va

    I feel badly for any women and their families who may suffer in the future due to this. But at least there is some benefit in that it gives us a glimpse of Obamacare before healthcare "reform" passes. I'm surprised that the death panel debate hasn't been rekindled.

    November 19, 2009 at 3:30 pm |
  4. DS in CLT

    Welcome to health care rationing. The American Cancer Society has no upper limit on screening should be every year from 40 until death. This new policy from the Obama administration says women between 50 +75 should be screened. So if your older than 75 you are not worth the cost of screening. Can anyone say death panels?

    November 19, 2009 at 3:12 pm |
  5. Boomer in Mo

    Tom, when's the last time you had a mammogram? Do you know how much radiation women are being exposed to every time they have one? Do you know radiation can cause, gasp, cancer? I'm 60 years old, with no family history of any cancer other than skin cancer. I've always just had a mammogram every other year because I am aware of the risk of radiation causing cancer. I intend to keep doing that, and my doctor is fine with it. Women with bad family histories, who have had other forms of cancer and other risk factors need to get mammograms every year, and so do the MEN in their families. Yes, men get breast cancer. Part of the reason health care costs are out of control is because everyone wants every test imaginable on demand, regardless of how effective said tests are. And doctors are under considerable pressure to pile on tests to get more things billed to a patient. And this commission that came out with the findings was formed under BUSH, not Obama.

    November 19, 2009 at 3:06 pm |
  6. Mike, formerly from Syracuse, NY

    Actually we are very lucky; between the H1N1 vaccine fiasco and the position on mammograms we are getting an exceellent preview of life under Obamacare. The federal government is incompetent, the federal government run by a liberal is bigger and more incompetent. get the message?

    November 19, 2009 at 3:03 pm |
  7. Tim Gibson

    Has everyone received their government issued blind fold in the mail yet. Perhaps it is coming with the census.

    November 19, 2009 at 2:27 pm |
  8. Woman in IL

    I had my first mammogram 2 weeks ago. I am not even 40 yet. Two weeks ago, minus 1 day, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I am so angry. And I am not angry that I have cancer. I am angry that this administration has lied about this health care bill has anything to do with health of Americans. It is about power, control, money, deals and votes. This latest mammogram fiasco only provides further proof. Name one thing in the bill that will help anyone's health. Maybe it will help cover a few more people, but do we really need to spend trillions of dollars (during a recession) to do that? I agree with Tom in Tennessee... would the media.. PLEASE PLEASE report some non-biased news. Anyone! Please. It is ok to criticize the president, you know. At least for now.

    November 19, 2009 at 2:23 pm |
  9. Conserve' for USA

    The governments already getting ready for their rationing of health care. Let's wait until these women are 50 years old to detect any cancer, than heck, they will be too old to waste treatment on. Look at all the money they will save!

    November 19, 2009 at 11:00 am |
  10. Tom in Tennessee

    Just another lie from Barry's folks. They lied about job creation. Now he wants us to believe he really cares about the national debt while his administration spends like a sailor. Read this health bill and you will see this is not about health care. If CNN would report on what is really going on with this administration their ratings would skyrocket. People are hungry for the truth.

    November 19, 2009 at 10:17 am |
  11. janelane

    What does this have to do with the President? It's more likely someone opposed to health care reform made sure this recommendation came out just now – during the health care reform debate – instead of later, from a task force that doesn't meet very often. It's like a divorce – if you want one, everything looks like a reason to get one. If you don't like the president, every problem becomes his fault.

    November 19, 2009 at 10:02 am |
  12. kimberly hyatt

    I just want to say is that the goverment has no right to tell or dictate when a woman can or can not have a mamogram. im 41 years old and if it wasnt for my doctor getting on to me at age 36 i wouldnt be here today . i found out two ahd a half years ago that i had breast cancer in the right breast and not the left. I decided to have both breast removed because i didnt want the chance of having to go threw it again down the road. next thing you know the goverment is going to tell women we cant do that eaither and that they will only pay for one breast to be reconstructed. im glad i had awsome insurance because they payed real well on all nine suregerys and im happy to say that they look great now. i look better than befor my plastic surgen done a wonderful job on my reconstruction and the cancer doctor even went the extra mile to do the genic testing to see if i had the genes that would be passed on to my children and thanks to god i dont have the gene and my brothers and sisters dont have to worry eaither.. my kids are happy to they dont have the gene. any way all and all i just want to tell the goverment that they need to leave womans health alone and worry about the people in America that are losing jobs homes and are starving....

    November 19, 2009 at 9:51 am |