Pettiti and Asses
The (task force) recommends against routine screening mammography in women aged 40 to 49 years. - U.S. Preventative Services Task Force, Nov. 17, 2009
When I read stories such as this from guys like Michael Collins I have to wonder aloud how far we've really gotten from the fake panels and ignorant civilians that always seemed to be employed by the Bush administration.
True, HHS Secretary Kathleen Sibelius did the right thing and swiftly denounced a report from an HHS-sponsored U.S. Preventive Services Task Force panel claiming that breast examinations weren't all that important for women aged 40-49. Secretary Sibelius said in her official response,
The U.S. Preventive Task Force is an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make recommendations. They do not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government... My message to women is simple. Mammograms have always been an important life-saving tool in the fight against breast cancer and they still are today. 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.
Yes, you read that right. In fact, they even recommended against regular mammography screenings for women in that risky demographic.
The panel of 16 members, including two nurses and a researcher (but she had a PhD!) had not one single oncologist or anyone with a recorded history of treating cancer. Huh? How could this be, since the thrust of the panel was preventive medicine.
So who was one of the voices of this panel? None other than the ironically-named Dr. Diane Pettiti, M.D. Who is Dr. Diane Pettiti, MD? She is, to quote Michael Collins' simple description, "a health policy and medical advisor for Kaiser Permanente of Southern California." Kaiser Permanente? The people mentioned often in Michael Moore's SiCKO, the largest health insurer in the country, the one that routinely shoves uninsured patients into cabs and leaves them wandering the streets of LA in the general vicinity of free clinics with the IV's still in their arms?
The Kaiser Permanente who, under Richard Nixon in 1971, began to change the way HMO's would cover their policy-holders, the one that became the soulless juggernaut prizing profits over the health of their policy-holders, the model for other HMOs to emulate over the next four decades?
That Kaiser Permanente?
WUSA did an in-depth report and found out that three of the panel members had ties to the health care industry, not including Pettiti. The furor stated when NPR's Diane Rehm had Dr. Pettiti on her show and asked her point blank how many oncologists were on the panel and she couldn't answer. Among others, Dr. Rebecca Zurrbier, MD was listening to Rehm's show and became enraged by what she'd heard. Dr. Zurrbier is the Chief of Breast imaging at Sibley Memorial Hospital in DC and when she went public with her own outrage, Secretary Sibelius had no choice but to denounce the report the day after it came out.
Question: How could this happen under Sibelius' nose and why were oncologists and breast cancer specialists seemingly deliberately omitted from a 16 member panel supposedly dedicated to preventive medicine such as mammograms? Why were so many of them affiliated with a health care racket and a notorious HMO like Kaiser Permanente that would love nothing more than for people to stop getting sick and to squander their bottom line on frivolous things such as cancer screenings?
And how come it was up to NPR, WUSA and a breast imaging chief of staff to turn up this obviously tilted panel?
We had enough of this shit under the Bush years. Under Bush, we had a 24 year-old college dropout determining what NASA scientists could or couldn't say about the Big Bang. We had religious fundmentalists in the FDA spreading the wrong ideas about womens' health and birth control and others who owned stocks in the food and medical device industry they were supposed to regulate. We saw the same suppression of information in the EPA, the Surgeon General's office and other places. Under Bush, there was an all out Cold War against science that poo-pooed global warming, the plight of the polar bear, evolution, stem cell research, even the origins of the universe.
But at least it can be said that the shills and ideological rodeo clowns of the pathetic dumb show that was the Bush administration earnestly believed through some tragic misguidance the positions they took.
This panel of preventive medicine was acting largely, if not solely, in the interests of health care profits. And that's what makes this HHS-sponsored panel even more despicable.
And this report came out a little over two weeks after Breast Cancer Awareness month.
Believe it or not, there are still many women who die from breast cancer through lack of education. In fact, breast cancer is the second leading cause of cancer death among US women (after lung) . According to Networkofstrength.org, 40,170 women (and 440 men) are expected to die of the disease this year. Cancer.org stated late last September that 192,370 women will be diagnosed with the disease in 2009. So how important is screening, in reality?
Early last year, the British National Health Service released a finding that was hardly startling but one that stands in stark contrast to the "findings" of the voodoo panel that briefly had the HHS seal of approval written all over it: The NHS determined that merely getting screened halves cancer deaths. If that goes for the UK, why shouldn't it go for the US?
Molly Ivins, liberal icon and one of the greatest political journalists of our time, said just before her own death of breast cancer, "Get. The. Damned. Test. Done."
And while we're renewing the battle to have women (and men) screened for breast cancer (and to examine themselves once a month), let's also renew calls to screen out industry ideologues and shills who will try to get away with saying anything even though it could result in the deaths of close to 200,000 women just so they could keep their employers and their shareholders fat and happy.