GOP: Healthcare reform allows government to 'mandate new standards'

The controversy surrounding a government-commissioned task force's new mammogram recommendations could become commonplace under Democrats' proposed healthcare bill, one Republican Senate hopeful said Saturday.

Should that chamber's reform effort pass, government "bureaucrats" -- not doctors and medical experts -- could ultimately dictate "how we prevent and treat something like breast cancer," California GOP candidate Carly Fiorina stressed in her party's radio address this weekend.

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"We wonder if we are heading down a path where the federal government will at first suggest and then mandate new standards for prevention and treatment," Fiorina said. "Do we really want government bureaucrats rather than doctors dictating how we prevent and treat something like breast cancer?"

Fiorina and the GOP's latest offensive against Democrats' healthcare reforms stems from a set of guidelines released last month by the U.S. Preventive Services Task Force. Their report encouraged women to begin regular breast cancer screenings at age 50 -- not at age 40, as doctors currently suggest.

That recommendation, however, quickly earned the panel serious scorn from medical experts, lawmakers and patients alike. Among the many criticisms soon levied at its members, skeptics charged the Task Force was without an oncologist who specialized in breast cancer treatment and research. Others asserted the panel was more interested in cutting costs than providing adequate care.

Ultimately, the White House has stressed since the Task Force's announcement that its recommendations would not guide the administration's overarching health policy.

But that assurance has hardly stopped Republicans from capitalizing on the recommendation's media and political fallout.

Many GOPers, including Fiorina, now claim the spat over mammograms is but a microcosm of what might happen if the government intervenes in healthcare delivery or erects a robut public option, as Democrats propose.

"The healthcare bill now being debated in the Senate explicitly empowers this very task force to influence future coverage and preventive care," Fiorina said in the radio address. "In fact, there are more than a dozen examples in the bill where this task force is empowered to influence care."

"There is a reason American women with breast cancer have a higher survival rate than women in countries with government-run health care," Fiorina added. "Unlike those countries, our government doesn’t dictate what prevention and treatments women can get."

But Democrats are likely to fire back in the coming days that their healthcare bill already includes strong patient protections -- especially in the realm of breast cancer care and treatment.

An amendment approved on Thursday guarantees low-cost breast cancer screenings and other preventive services for women. A separate proposal added to the bill a day earlier, authored by Republican Sen. David Vitter (La.), requires the federal government to ignore the Task Force's latest mammogram rules in particular.

Still, Republicans remain unsatisfied with Senate Democrats' changes -- a sentiment evident in Fiorina's radio address on Saturday.

"While some defend the idea of a government task force, my experience with cancer tells me it’s wrong," Fiorina said. "Cutting down on mammograms might save the government some money that it will then spend on something else. But it won’t save lives. And isn’t that what health care reform was supposed to be all about?"