2012-02-08 / Opinion

Test flight

OTHER VOICES

A new federal study found that Americans are getting screened for three major cancers — breast, cervical and colorectal — at rates far below national targets. The shortfall is especially high among adults who lack insurance or regular access to a doctor, partly because the recession drove employers to lay off workers or cut health benefits.

Many low- and middle-income people are now unable or unwilling to pay for screening tests or visits to the doctor. Their plight underscores the urgent need to retain the health care reform law that will expand proven screening and prevention programs at no charge to patients.

The study, based on a survey taken in 2010, was conducted by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the National Cancer Institute. The three types of cancer were chosen for scrutiny because there is good evidence that, for certain age groups, screening for these cancers can reduce illness and save lives.

The survey results were discouraging. The percentage of people getting screened for breast cancer has hit a plateau and for cervical cancer turned slightly downward. In 2010, only 72.4 percent of the women ages 50 to 74 reported getting mammography screening within the previous two years, below the official national goal of 81.1 percent by the end of the decade. Only 83 percent of the eligible women reported having a Pap test to detect cervical cancer within the previous three years, short of the 93 percent goal. The percentage of men and women between the ages of 50 and 74 getting screened for colorectal cancer has improved markedly, but it rose to only 58.6 percent in 2010, below the target of 70.5 percent.

The health care reform law will ensure that all Americans have access to vital preventive care. It already eliminates cost-sharing for the screenings in Medicare and new private policies, and, starting in 2014, it will expand Medicaid for the poor and provide subsidies to help middle-income people buy private health insurance. Republicans won't stop pressing for repeal of the law. American consumers, so many of whom are struggling to pay their health care bills, need to think a lot harder about what they would lose if Republicans get their way.

— The New York Times

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