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New mammography guidelines and the economic effects

Sunday, November 29, 2009 - Nearly 11 million women that fall between 40 and 49 and many of them screen on a regular basis for breast cancer. Not to long ago, the screening mammography recommendations of the United States Preventive Services Task Force, (USPSTF) that were published in the Annals of Internal Medicine changed.

This highly debated change, to many of the common practices that women have been doing for over 20 years are upsetting. The USPSTF advises that women between the ages 40 and 49 against routine mammograms, saying that a regular screening every two years before age 50, should be an individual decision and my not be needed.

Instead, the USPSTF recommends that women in the age group between 50 and 74 have a screening mammogram every two years, and mammograms for women over 75 may not even be helpful. Whether this decision by the USPSTF is correct or not, from an economic point of view; the change can have lasting consequences.

Dr. Dhruv Agneshwar, an OB-GYN says, “When it comes to saving money, cutting mammograms doesn't make sense” then goes on say, "The mammogram is a very cheap, cost-effective screening mechanism." In the past 25 years, hospitals, clinics and mobile mammogram trailer have brought mammograms to every corner of the United State. Mammogram screening is a fairly common practice today and is considered routine by many America women.

The economic conditions say that supply of mammogram resources are in balance with the demand for the services. This equilibrium of supply and demand dictates the price and right now the price according to Dr. Agneshwar is inexpensive for these services.

The remove of 11 million women from the age group of 40 to 49 from the demand side, in addition lengthen the recommend screening time for women between 50 and 74. The demand side of the equation is reduced, resulting in a falling of the price until the supply of services is equal with the demand for services.

This sounds good; however, the supply side will not remain the same. With prices for mammograms falling, so do profits for those who supply the mammogram services. If the profit is not there, many companies will choose not to provide the service anymore. This takes supply out of the system. This will continue until supply and demand are once again equal.

Once this equilibrium is achieved, prices will remain steady. However, if conditions changes, lets say, the USPSTF changes its recommendation back to recommending women between 40 and 49, receive regular mammograms on a regular basis. This will increase the demand for services again and would cause higher prices for consumers until the balance is restored.

That is, if a balance can be restored quickly. Some of the companies that currently supply services and exited or downsized, might be reluctance to re-entering with new services or supply. Causing prices to remain high until equilibrium in restored.

From an economic view point the USPSTF should keep policy the same considering relative low price for mammogram services and not upset the economical balance.

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