GOP seizes on women's health studies

WASHINGTON — Republicans are seizing on this week's recommendations for fewer Pap smears and mammograms to fuel concern about government-rationed medical care — and to try to chip away support by women for President Obama's proposed health care overhaul.

' 'This is how rationing starts,'' declared Jon Kyl of Arizona, the party's second-in-command in the Senate, during a news conference. ''This is what we're going to expect in the future.''

Said Sen. Lisa Murkowski of Alaska: ''Those recommendations will be used by the insurance companies as they make a determination as to what they're going to cover.''

Democrats said the recommendations had nothing to do with the big health care bill. And besides, they said, the recommendations, especially one that women start mammograms at 50 rather than 40, were deeply flawed.

' 'It's entirely possible that this panel got it wrong, and I think they did,'' said Illinois Sen. Dick Durbin, the vote-counting Democratic whip. Fears that the government is going to run health care have not come up during negotiations for today's crucial procedural vote, Durbin added.

But the recommendations have given Republicans something new to talk about in making their case that the bill amounts to government-rationed health care.

One Democrat wasn't taking chances on whether the recommendations had jeopardized access to affordable mammograms. Sen. Barbara Mikulski, D-Md., said she would introduce an amendment that would limit the costs of the breast cancer tests for women 40 and older.

' 'Otherwise, insurance companies may use this new recommendation as yet another reason to deny women coverage for mammograms,'' Mikulski said.

That was unlikely, the White House said.

' 'Under health insurance reform, recommendations like these cannot be used to dictate coverage,'' said presidential spokesman Reid Cherlin.

The guidelines themselves stress that they're general recommendations for routine screening, not a replacement for the one-on-one health advice that women with various risk factors for breast or cervical cancer get from their doctors in choosing how often to get a Pap or mammogram.