Blog | Wednesday, August 5, 2009

Is prevention more politically effective than cost effective?

Last week, a study in BMJ pointed out that cervical cancer screening may be overused in young women. According to the researchers, there's probably no need to screen women under 25. They also suggested that women who are screened and have abnormal results don't necessarily benefit from immediate colposcopies.

I'm guessing that most members of Congress were too busy arguing about health reform to catch that journal article, but there may be a valuable lesson in it for them. Preventive health care has been a popular talking point for politicians--it was one of the few things President Obama and Senator McCain agreed on. But does preventive care actually have any relevance to cost-cutting?

No, but that won't stop Congress from making preventive coverage a major part of health care reform, according to new article from Kaiser Health News. "Under the House plan, patients could receive free an initial physical exam, diabetes screening tests, blood tests for heart disease, mammography, pap smears, bone mass measurements, flu and pneumonia vaccines, screenings for colon and rectal cancer, and ultrasound screenings for abdominal aortic aneurysm."

Not to say that covering screenings is a bad thing, but it does seem like a little attention to their effectiveness (cost and outcome-wise) might be worthwhile. After all, just because a pap smear's free doesn't mean it's fun.