Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius on Wednesday stressed a new report casting doubt on long-standing mammogram guidelines would not shape White House policy.

The task force -- which recommended last week that women begin breast cancer screenings at age 50, not at age 40 as many doctors have long suggested -- is "an outside independent panel of doctors and scientists who make policy recommendations," the secretary noted.


Its members, she added, "do not set federal policy and they don't determine what services are covered by the federal government."

"The Task Force has presented some new evidence for consideration but our policies remain unchanged," Sebelius said in a statement. "Indeed, I would be very surprised if any private insurance company changed its mammography coverage decisions as a result of this action."

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force has taken serious heat from both doctors and lawmakers for its newly released mammogram recommendations.

Some experts have since charged the task force's opinions are irrelevant, as the panel lacks an oncologist who specializes in breast cancer. Others have argued its conclusions could encourage women to delay their first screenings -- and could soon encourage some insurance companies not to cover those important tests.

Consequently, a handful of lawmakers have similarly lashed out at the report, and one House member in particular -- Rep. Debbie Wasserman-Schultz (D-Fla.), a breast cancer survivor -- has even called for a hearing.

"We can't turn literally 20 years of recommendations ...upside down, and discourage women from becoming familiar with the look and feel of their breasts," the Florida lawmaker told MSNBC on Tuesday.

But Sebelius on Monday stressed that the task force's findings would not influence the White House's policy. Instead, she said the panel's recommendation demonstrated "more research and more scientific innovation" in breast cancer detection and treatment was necessary.

"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," she said. "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."