WSJ follows the mammogram money & lobbying

Alicia Mundy of the Wall Street Journal reports: “The final health-care bill is likely to require coverage for more mammograms than the new guidelines recommend after women’s groups, doctors and imaging-equipment makers stepped up pressure on lawmakers — one of many threads of the bill negotiated behind the scenes.”

Further excerpt of the story:

Adriane Fugh-Berman, a professor at Georgetown University’s medical school in Washington, D.C., said the evidence supports less-frequent mammograms. “You have to ask if there’s conflict of interest, because breast-cancer advocacy has become a big business,” she said.

Ties between nonprofits and companies have been under attack by some consumer watchdogs. Sen. Chuck Grassley, an Iowa Republican, sent letters last month asking 33 major nonprofit groups including the American Cancer Society to disclose their industry funding.

The American Cancer Society said it has received less than $1 million from screening-device makers in the past five years. Its spokesman said the donations, which are small relative to the society’s annual revenue of more than $1 billion, don’t influence its recommendations.

The American College of Radiology, a trade group, called the new government guidelines scientifically unfounded, and said that if the guidelines are adopted, “two decades of decline in breast-cancer mortality could be reversed and countless American women may die needlessly.”

Its flagship research program studies the role of radiology in medicine. It received donations of at least $1 million each from General Electric Co.’s GE Healthcare and Siemens AG, according to the trade group’s 2007-08 annual report. Both companies make mammography equipment and MRI scanners. Several other medical-device makers donated at least $100,000.

A spokesman for GE said the new guidelines conflict with successful early-screening programs. A representative of Siemens didn’t respond to a request for comment. The college of radiology said sponsors haven’t influenced its research. It has spent $480,000 on lobbying in the past two years, while the imaging industry spent more than $2.5 million.

One of the largest breast-cancer-awareness groups, Susan G. Komen for the Cure, has worked with GE and other companies. Komen turned to GE in October when it lit the Great Pyramids pink to mark a major screening initiative in Egypt. Neither GE nor the Komen group would say how much the event cost.

In 2007, GE sold limited-edition pink cameras to Home Shopping Network, which donated a portion of the sales to Komen. Imaging and film companies whose products go into mammography equipment have made pink DVD players, pink computer flash drives and pink cellphones, a portion of whose sales raise money for Komen and other breast-cancer groups.

In events at the Capitol, Komen for the Cure founder Nancy Brinker has praised GE’s digital mammography technology, and she received a public-service award from the company.

Ms. Brinker, sister of the late Susan G. Komen, said some patient-advocacy groups tended to represent industry views, but her organization’s push has always been early detection.

A traveling mammogram van purchased this fall by the American Cancer Society, Komen and other advocacy groups for the Dana-Farber Cancer Institute in Boston touts a new GE Healthcare Senographe Essential digital-mammography system.

A lobbying group leading the charge in Washington against the new guidelines is the Access to Medical Imaging Coalition, whose members include GE and Siemens and several nonprofit patient groups, the college of radiology and leading doctors societies. The coalition’s director, Tim Trysla, is a lobbyist at a Washington law firm. He has been working in Congress against proposals to cut billions of dollars in Medicare spending in the health-overhaul bill that could hurt imaging-device makers.

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