Last week the US Preventative Services Task Force (USPTF) released their study and recommendations on prostate cancer screenings. Their findings argue that “Prostate-specific antigen-based screening results in small or no reduction in prostate cancer-specific mortality…” The nation’s largest urology group, among others, quickly spoke out against these findings saying, “Because of early detection efforts, the death rate from prostate cancer has decreased 38% (from almost 40 per 100,000 men in 1992 to fewer than 25 per 100,000 in 2007).”

Despite these protests by physicians patients’ access to these screenings may be limited. The New York Times has reported that, based on the USPTF recommendation, insurers were considering removing coverage for screenings. They report, “Both Aetna and Kaiser Permanente said it was unclear whether they would continue paying for the test. ‘We are currently reviewing the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force’s recent announcement on prostate cancer screening,’ Jason Allen, a spokesman for Kaiser Permanente, said in an e-mail.” By removing coverage of these screenings a patient’s ability to receive them may be constrained.

This rationing may not be as overt as one sees in socialized systems like the United Kingdom, but it still holds the potential to restrict a patient’s ability to receive the care they desire. A patient’s health care decisions should not be determined by the recommendations of any federal board, no matter how distant. A patient’s need of prostate cancer screenings, along with all other health care, ought to be a decision made by the patient with the advice of their doctor. Health care reform needs to come by a reduction of costs not care.

– Spencer Harris